On June 4, 2021, the FDA approved the first new weight loss medication since 2014 – semaglutide 2.4 mg, also known as Wegovy. Wegovy is the first and only once-weekly prescription medication approved for weight loss. In clinical trials, Wegovy proved to be the most effective weight loss medication on the market, helping patients lose an average of 15% of their initial body weight after 68 weeks of medication, reduced calorie diet, and increased physical activity. Now that I have your attention, here’s what you need to know about this medication.
What is Wegovy® (Semaglutide)?
Semaglutide, known by the brand name Wegovy, is a once-weekly injectable medication manufactured by Novo Nordisk for the treatment of obesity. It is available by prescription only for adults with obesity (BMI ≥30) or overweight (BMI ≥27) who also have weight-related medical problems. Wegovy is from a class of medications known as glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs), which have been used for many years for the treatment of diabetes and, more recently, obesity. In fact, a lower dose of the same drug in Wegovy (semaglutide) is used to treat type 2 diabetes in an injectable form called Ozempic® and an oral form called Rybelsus®. It is important to understand that Wegovy should not be used with these or other GLP-1 receptor agonists and it is not known if Wegovy can safely be used with other prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal weight loss products. If you have a history of pancreatitis or are under the age of 18, the safety of using Wegovy is unknown. Additionally, Wegovy should not be used if you are pregnant or have a personal or family history of medullary thyroid cancer or some rare genetic syndromes.
How Does Wegovy® (Semaglutide) Work?
Wegovy mimics a hormone that we naturally produce called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 acts in many tissues of the body, including several areas of the brain that regulate our appetite. This helps you eat less, resulting in weight loss. Wegovy also works in the pancreas and other tissues to regulate blood sugar. This improves hemoglobin A1c levels for people with type 2 diabetes. Clinical trials have shown that in addition to the benefits in type 2 diabetes, Wegovy is also safe and effective for weight loss in people with obesity without diabetes.
Why People Use Wegovy® (Semaglutide)
The results from the clinical trials of Wegovy are very exciting for those of us helping people with weight loss. The clinical trials showed an average of 15% weight loss for people using Wegovy in combination with a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity. This is the most weight loss we’ve seen from any weight loss medication to date. In fact, we have more recent data comparing Wegovy to Novo Nordisk’s other GLP-1 receptor agonist indicated for obesity called Saxenda® (liraglutide), and patients lost significantly more weight with Wegovy than they did with Saxenda – 15.8% versus 6.4%. Additionally, persons taking Wegovy experienced improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels, helping to reduce the burden of common complications of obesity like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. In patients with type 2 diabetes, semaglutide has also shown a reduction in cardiovascular events and mortality.
Dr. Kirsten Frederiksen, board-certified obesity medicine physician and Director of Clinical Operations at Form Health®, has had a similar experience with her patients on Wegovy. When asked about this new medication, she states, “My patients and I have been very pleased with the weight loss and improvement in related comorbidities we are seeing with Wegovy. This new formulation of high dose, injectable, once-weekly semaglutide has truly become a game changer for us as providers of obesity medicine care.” Form Health’s Chief Medical Officer and board-certified obesity medicine physician Dr. Florencia Halperin felt similarly, saying, “Wegovy has been an incredible addition to our toolbox to support patients in sustainable weight loss to improve their health. My patients have found significant appetite suppression and decrease in cravings, and feel like this makes it so much easier to stick with a healthy lifestyle. One thing that has amazed me is that even after 6-8 months of treatment, people are still actively losing weight!” And in a long-term clinical trial conducted by Novo Nordisk, persons taking Wegovy sustained this significant weight loss after 2 years of treatment. This is so important when we consider how common weight regain is for people who have successfully lost weight.
Potential side effects of Wegovy® (Semaglutide)
It’s always important to take safety and potential side effects into account when you are starting a new medication. The side effects of Wegovy are most commonly gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, and stomach pain. Headaches, tiredness, and dizziness can sometimes occur as well. Gallbladder disease is a more serious potential side effect, and other rare side effects have also been described. It is important to monitor for side effects and notify your healthcare professional immediately should you experience side effects while taking Wegovy. In clinical trials, only 6.8% of patients treated with Wegovy versus 3.2% of patients treated with placebo discontinued the medication due to adverse effects.
At Form Health®, board-certified and obesity-trained medical professionals work with a patient and their primary care provider to obtain a patient’s full medical history prior to prescribing Wegovy. They also meet with patients monthly to ensure they are tolerating the medication prior to prescribing the next dose. The dose of Wegovy is typically increased monthly in order to minimize side effects and improve the chances that someone can take it long term. However, the prescribing medical professional can delay increasing the dose for up to four weeks if a patient is experiencing side effects from the medication. By checking in with patients on a monthly basis, the obesity specialists at Form Health can keep a close eye on their patients and adjust the dosing schedule as needed to improve tolerance.
The Form Health® Approach to Medical Weight Loss with Wegovy® (Semaglutide)
Form Health obesity specialists have extensive experience using medications like Wegovy to help patients lose weight and improve their health. All patients of Form Health undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation, including laboratory studies, and participate in frequent visits with a Registered Dietitian who provides a nutrition plan, accountability, and support for long-term behavior change that promotes weight loss. The decision to start Wegovy is shared between the obesity medicine specialist and the patient and is based on their past medical history, current medications, and insurance coverage. When Wegovy is felt to be the best option for a patient, it is used in combination with healthy lifestyle changes and mindset shifts that promote long-term success. Patients receive ongoing counseling and support from their medical team and Registered Dietitian delivered via a telehealth platform. They are monitored closely to confirm they are tolerating the medication and that it is having the desired weight loss effect. If so, the medication is continued along with healthy lifestyle changes in order to help patients continue losing weight and ultimately, keep it off.
If you’re interested in seeking medical care for weight management and working with experts who can help you consider medications such as Wegovy® as a tool to help you reach your weight loss goal, give Form Health a try! Our insurance-covered medical weight loss program uses tools like nutrition, physical activity, mindset shifts and FDA-approved medication, if appropriate, as part of a comprehensive weight loss program to help you lose weight and improve your health.
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Wegovy®, Ozempic®, and Rybelsus® are registered trademarks of Novo Nordisk A/S
About the Author: Brooke Marsico, PA-C, completed her physician assistant training at Midwestern University in 2011. She began her practice in the field of Obesity Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago where she practiced from 2016 to 2021. She went on to treat patients living with obesity at Cleveland Clinic from 2021 to 2022 prior to joining the team at Form Health. Brooke is passionate about helping patients living with obesity achieve meaningful weight loss and improve their health. Her practice focuses on individualized behavioral and pharmacological intervention to help patients reach their goals. She is also experienced in managing patients who have a history of bariatric surgery.