Wegovy and Ozempic linked to gastrointestinal problems, study finds.

Wegovy and Ozempic linked to gastrointestinal problems, study finds.

Weight-Loss Drugs: The Risks and Rewards


Weight loss is a journey that many embark on, often seeking help from popular weight-loss drugs such as Wegovy and Ozempic. These medications have gained rave reviews for their effectiveness in shedding excess pounds. However, a recent study has shed light on the potential gastrointestinal side effects associated with these drugs.

Known as GLP-1 agonists, these medications not only aid in weight loss but are primarily used to manage type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. The study conducted by Dr. Mohit Sodhi and his team from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver reveals that GLP-1 agonists, such as semaglutide (Ozempic) and liraglutide (Victoza), may increase the risk of stomach paralysis, pancreatitis, bowel obstruction, and gastroparesis.

While these adverse events are relatively rare, affecting only about 1% of patients, the sheer number of individuals taking these medications means that thousands of people may be affected. Consequently, patients considering these drugs for weight loss should weigh the risks against the benefits and engage in a detailed consultation with their physicians to determine the suitability of these medications for their weight-loss goals.

Dr. Caroline Messer, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, acknowledges that the gastrointestinal side effects associated with GLP-1 agonists, such as constipation and nausea, are to be expected. However, she emphasizes that the benefits of losing substantial weight far outweigh the small risk of experiencing these side effects. The risk of developing gout, heart disease, strokes, heart attacks, and diabetes can be substantially reduced with weight loss, making these medications a sound choice in many cases.

To assess the risks and benefits of GLP-1 agonists, the researchers examined health insurance claims for approximately 16 million U.S. patients who had been prescribed these drugs between 2006 and 2020. They compared the risks associated with GLP-1 agonists to those of another weight-loss drug, bupropion-naltrexone (Contrave). The findings indicated that GLP-1 agonists were associated with a higher risk of pancreatitis, bowel obstruction, and gastroparesis compared to bupropion-naltrexone.

Specifically, the study revealed that GLP-1 agonists had a nine times higher risk of pancreatitis, a four times higher risk of bowel obstruction, and a four times higher risk of gastroparesis. Although a higher risk for biliary disease affecting the gallbladder was also observed, the difference was not statistically significant.

While these risks are known and rare, Dr. Jamie Kane, director of the Northwell Health Center for Weight Management in Great Neck, N.Y., emphasizes the need for informed discussions between physicians and patients before starting any of these medications. Patient history of pancreatitis should be taken into account, and the risk of chronic conditions associated with morbid obesity and lifestyle factors should be carefully weighed against the increased risk from the drug.

It is essential to note that while weight-loss drugs like GLP-1 agonists can be effective, the most effective and safest approach to weight management is through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine and president of the True Health Initiative, emphasizes the importance of leveraging food as medicine and ensuring everyone has access to a high-quality diet. Although GLP-1 agonists are highly effective in managing diabetes and promoting weight loss, they should be considered as a last resort, given their potential side effects and costs.



Weight loss is a challenging journey, and individuals often turn to medications like Wegovy and Ozempic for assistance. However, recent research highlights the potential gastrointestinal side effects associated with these weight-loss drugs. While the risks of pancreatitis, bowel obstruction, and gastroparesis are relatively rare, patients considering these medications should discuss the risks and benefits with their physicians.

Dr. Messer emphasizes that despite the potential side effects, the substantial benefits of weight loss, including reduced risks of various chronic conditions, far outweigh the small risks associated with these medications. It is crucial to engage in informed discussions with healthcare professionals to make an informed decision about weight-loss drug therapy.

The study reiterates that a healthy diet and lifestyle should always be the first line of defense when it comes to weight management. While GLP-1 agonists have shown promising results, they should be considered as a last resort due to their potential risks and associated costs.

Weight loss is a holistic and individualized journey, and each individual should explore various options and consult with healthcare professionals to find the most suitable approach towards achieving their weight-loss goals.

More information

For more information on GLP-1 agonists and weight loss, head to the Cleveland Clinic.