What it’s like to take blockbuster drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, from serious side effects to losing 50 pounds

What it’s like to take blockbuster drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, from serious side effects to losing 50 pounds

During the two months Carey Yazeed took Ozempic, the drug worked as expected. Yazeed has type 2 diabetes and the weekly injection has lowered his blood sugar levels. But it also brought side effects she considered unbearable, including vomiting, fatigue, headaches and stomach cramps.

Five weeks after taking the drug, Yazeed said, she found herself unable to move from the bathroom floor.

“I had thrown up so much I didn’t have the energy to get up and I was basically lying in it,” she said. “I couldn’t even raise my head to throw up in the dresser. It was so bad.

Dr Carey Yazeed.  (Courtesy of Carey Yazeed.)

Dr Carey Yazeed. (Courtesy of Carey Yazeed.)

The severe effects Yazeed has faced are not common, but the experiences of people taking Ozempic and its sister drug, Wegovy, can vary widely – from substantial weight loss and minimal discomfort at one end of the spectrum to extreme effects. the other.

NBC News spoke to 10 people about their experiences taking these blockbuster drugs, both of which are forms of semaglutide. They are designed to mimic a hormone that signals the brain when a person is full and promotes the release of insulin, a hormone that prevents blood sugar levels from getting too high. In turn, drugs can lower blood sugar and suppress appetite.

They’ve grown in popularity over the past year, thanks in part to social media attention and billionaires like Elon Musk touting the drugs’ weight-loss effects.

Ozempic prescriptions tripled from 2021 to 2022, according to data from prescription drug discount company SingleCare, which has more than 5 million members. Last year, high demand and global supply constraints led to drug shortages. The FDA reported a shortage of Wegovy in March 2022, followed by a shortage of Ozempic in August.

Several interviewees said that the benefits they received from the drugs outweighed the side effects.

“It’s just lighter to move around. My clothes fit so much better and more comfortably,” said Stacey Bollinger, Account Manager in Maryland, who said she has lost 52 pounds since starting Wegovy. “Something as simple as bending over to tie my shoe is so much easier.”

Stacey Bollinger.  (Courtesy of Stacey Bollinger)

Stacey Bollinger. (Courtesy of Stacey Bollinger)

Some people said they felt fine with the drugs. But Yazeed and a few others described side effects that made them stop taking the drugs or wonder if they could take them long term.

Obesity medicine experts who prescribe Ozempic and Wegovy have said the drugs can transform the lives and health of patients. The effects of weight loss can allow patients to do things they couldn’t do before, like chasing grandchildren or finding clothes that fit them in mainstream stores. Semaglutide can also treat health problems related to obesity and diabetes, such as a high risk of heart attack or stroke.

“By treating obesity, you’re effectively treating potentially more than 200 other obesity- or weight-related diseases,” said Dr. Ania Jastreboff, associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. Jastreboff sits on the scientific advisory board of Novo Nordisk, which makes Ozempic and Wegovy.

Dramatic Weight Loss Stories

The Food and Drug Administration approved Ozempic for people with type 2 diabetes in 2017, then Wegovy — the same drug, which goes up to a higher dose — in 2021 for weight loss in obese adults or those who are overweight and have at least one weight-related health condition, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. Ozempic is not approved for weight loss, but doctors sometimes prescribe it off-label for this purpose.

Most people who took Ozempic or Wegovy said it reduced their hunger and reduced their cravings for unhealthy foods. Bollinger and Randi Lee Harper, a Seattle-area software developer, each said they lost more than 50 pounds.

Harper took Ozempic off-label for weight loss from May to November (she went on hiatus when moving to Washington State but plans to start again). She said she still enjoys her favorite foods — like truffle macaroni and cheese and Sour Patch Kids candies — but her portions were smaller.

“You don’t realize how food-centric your life is when you’re overweight until you go on a diet that just keeps you from thinking about it too much, like on Ozempic,” Harper said.

For the most part, she added, she responded well to the drug, although sometimes she would burp if she ate too much – a fairly common side effect.

As for Bollinger, she said that in addition to her weight loss, her average blood sugar had dropped so much that she was no longer pre-diabetic.

A study in over 1,000 people with type 2 diabetes found that semaglutide was more effective than insulin at lowering blood sugar. The participants had not seen results from other diabetes medications, which they continued to take during the trial. In another study of nearly 2,000 overweight or obese adults without diabetes, people taking semaglutide lost an average of 34 pounds in less than 16 weeks, compared to 6 pounds in those taking a placebo.

Dr. C. Nicole Swiner, a family physician in Durham, North Carolina, said she started taking Wegovy in 2021 after seeing how well it helped her patients. She has lost 30 pounds since then, she said.

“Because I’m not starving, I can actually stop and make a smarter decision. [rather] that, ‘Oh my God, I’m voracious. Let me take whatever is in the office kitchen,’ which is usually junk,” Swiner said.

C.Nicole Swiner.  (Chris Charles)

C.Nicole Swiner. (Chris Charles)

On Wegovy, she added, she eats less overall and has replaced sugary treats like cookies or muffins with healthier alternatives like yogurt or fruit.

For Yazeed, weight loss was not the reason she went to Ozempic, nor a goal. But on medication, she said, she had to force herself to eat and often couldn’t swallow anything beyond a protein shake in the morning. On a good day, she can also tolerate a little chicken broth.

She lost 10 pounds in two months, going from a size 12 to a size 8 or 10.

Patients who stop taking the drugs often regain weight

Like many medications, the effects of semaglutide stop when patients wash it off, so some people gain weight. Experts said they consider Ozempic and Wegovy to be lifelong medications.

“Data from our clinical trials for Wegovy showed that, unsurprisingly, patients regain weight once they stop taking the drug,” Novo Nordisk told NBC News in a statement.

“This confirms the belief that obesity is a chronic disease that requires long-term management, much like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, for which most patients remain on long-term treatment,” the company added. .

Ebony Wiggins, who has type 2 diabetes, said she gained about 15 pounds of the 25 she lost last year while taking Ozempic.

Artemis Bayandor, who lives in Naperville, Illinois, said she weighs more now than when she took Wegovy: less than a month after stopping the drug, she regained the 15 pounds she had lost with the drug, she said, plus an additional 10. the next six months.

“The first week I was fine, and the second week I went back to all the cravings, only worse,” Bayandor said.

Side effects deter some people from taking drugs

Courtney Hamilton didn’t spend more than a month on Ozempic, which her doctor prescribed off-label because Hamilton has type 1 diabetes, not type 2.

Her nausea got so bad she could barely eat, Hamilton said, and the foods she could tolerate weren’t particularly healthy.

“Ironically, this forced me to stick to very starchy, high carb foods like potatoes because they are very bland. I ate a lot of it and a lot of plain toast,” she said.

People usually start with a low dose of Ozempic or Wegovy and then increase to reduce side effects. Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said some serious effects could be the result of increasing this dose too quickly.

“If the patient says, ‘Oh my god, I’m sick. I can’t even go to work, I’m throwing up all day, ‘probably the dose just isn’t right for them,’ Stanford said.

In clinical trials, 73% of adults taking the highest dose of Wegovy reported gastrointestinal problems. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and upset stomach are the most common. Some people have reported more serious, though rare, side effects such as pancreatitis and kidney failure.

Novo Nordisk said patients with nausea as a side effect should contact their healthcare provider for advice on ways to manage it.

Jastreboff said she encourages her patients to eat smaller, more frequent meals, not eat beyond the point of satiety, and watch for foods that exacerbate their symptoms. Most side effects occur when people increase their dose and then go away once they reach the maintenance phase, she added.

Megan Cornelius, who has been taking Ozempic off-label for type 1 diabetes for several years, said she was nauseous and tired at first, but those effects faded over time.

“As long as I can keep taking it, I probably will,” Cornelius said.

Eric Joiner Jr. (Courtesy of Eric Joiner Jr.)

Eric Joiner Jr. (Courtesy of Eric Joiner Jr.)

For Eric Joiner Jr., a former type 2 diabetic, Ozempic did nothing beyond the intended effect: improve his kidney function – an off-label application of the drug. Joiner developed chronic kidney disease as a byproduct of his diabetes.

He hasn’t experienced any side effects or weight loss with Ozempic, he said, but he acknowledges that’s not true for everyone.

“At the end of the day, it’s a very personal thing,” he said. “Your biology is different from mine.”

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.

This article originally appeared on TODAY.com

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