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Wegovy

Wegovy is a drug prescribed to treat obesity and excess weight. Though effective, it has the potential to cause side effects, some of them serious. Currently, a supply shortage of Wegovy is causing patient treatment disruptions. Novo Nordisk is uncertain about the shortage duration.

Last Modified: January 29, 2024
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What Is Wegovy?

Wegovy is a prescription drug from Novo Nordisk that is FDA-approved for weight loss in obese or overweight adults and adults with weight-related medical problems. It may also be used in obese children aged 12 years or older. The active ingredient is semaglutide, which mimics a gastrointestinal hormone that the body naturally releases when a person eats. Semaglutide also impacts the parts of the brain responsible for signaling satiation and fullness after eating.

Initially, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only approved drugs containing semaglutide for treating diabetes, as one of the body’s primary responses to this chemical is producing more insulin. Wegovy is the only semaglutide-containing drug currently FDA-approved for weight loss, but health care providers can prescribe Ozempic off-label for weight loss.

What Is Wegovy Used For?

In 2021, the FDA approved Wegovy for chronic weight management. Healthcare practitioners prescribe Wegovy to help patients manage their weight.

The drug’s role in signaling insulin production works to maintain blood sugar levels, while the way it interacts with the brain increases a feeling of fullness when eating. It also slows the rate at which food empties from the stomach.

“This under-the-skin injection is the first approved drug for chronic weight management in adults with general obesity or overweight since 2014. — U.S. Food and Drug Administration”

Those with chronic obesity can take the drug to help them lose and control their weight. Patients who have excess weight — but not obesity — may obtain a Wegovy prescription if they have one or more concurrent medical conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Clinicians usually prescribe the medication along with a personalized diet and exercise plan.

How Effective Is Wegovy?

Scientific studies suggest that Wegovy is effective for weight loss and lowering the body mass index. Research also indicates that the drug and its active ingredient can reduce blood sugar levels and lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes. However, studies with other similar drugs such as Mounjaro with tirzepatide may show more effectiveness for weight loss reduction than those containing semaglutide.

Key Wegovy Facts
  • Adults lost an average of 35 lbs. on a 2.4 mg dose of Wegovy.
  • A 2.4 mg dose of Wegovy can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 60%.
  • Studies have found Wegovy can reduce A1C levels by 3%.

Blood tests on the A1C hemoglobin indicate a person’s average three-month blood sugar levels. While the FDA didn’t approve Wegovy for treating diabetes, it can have a positive impact on blood sugar. The most positive results occur when patients combine the medication with lifestyle changes.

How Wegovy Works

Wegovy works by imitating one of the gut hormones that releases insulin and triggers brain signals that indicate fullness after eating. The active ingredient is a synthetic peptide, or short chain of amino acids. This type of hormone also increases the cell volume of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and decreases the release of blood sugars.

Did you Know:
Semaglutide mimics a gut hormone that stimulates insulin production after meals. It also slows the movement of food in the stomach to decrease appetite.

Semaglutide aids weight loss through interactions in the gut and brain. The result is a decreased appetite. Additionally, those taking it feel fuller faster when they do eat. It also helps to make people feel full longer by slowing the passage of food through the stomach.

How To Use Wegovy

Wegovy dosages come as individual injections, stored in injection pens, that patients give themselves under the skin on their thighs, stomachs or upper arms. The drug is only available with a prescription, and patients must adhere to instructions from their doctors and pharmacists when using it.

Usually, patients start with smaller doses. As they adjust to the medication, they receive higher doses. This process occurs over 16 weeks. Patients use Wegovy in conjunction with physical activity and healthy eating habits.

Dosage

The indicated dosage is 2.4 mg, taken once per week. However, patients generally start at a much smaller dose to reduce common gastrointestinal side effects.

Typical Dosing Schedule
WeeksWeekly Dosage
1-40.25 mg
5-80.50 mg
9-121.0 mg
13-161.7 mg
172.4 mg

Once patients reach the 2.4 mg level, they maintain this dosage for the remainder of the time they take the medication. Some patients may stop at 1.7 mg, maintaining that level as their optimal dosage. However, patients experiencing side effects may receive alternative instructions.

Common Side Effects of Wegovy

According to Novo Nordisk, the most common side effect is nausea, impacting 44% of patients. Other gastrointestinal side effects are also not unusual. Patients may also experience headaches and dizziness.

Common Side Effects:
  • Abdominal pain
  • Belching
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Stomach flu
  • Vomiting

Other medications containing semaglutide, such as Ozempic, can cause similar side effects. However, the risk of Wegovy side effects and the potential for increased intensity could be higher because of its higher dosing.

Boxed Warning and Precautions for Wegovy

Wegovy carries a black box warning and precautions due to the potential for serious adverse events. Research on lab animals indicates that semaglutide increases the risk of thyroid cancer, though there is uncertainty about whether the same effects occur in humans.

Patients with a family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma and those with multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome, type 2, may be at a higher risk of thyroid C-cell tumors. Other serious side effects may occur.

Serious Side Effects
Acute Gallbladder Disease
Taking Wegovy increases the risk of cholelithiasis and cholecystitis, especially in children aged 12 and up.
Acute Kidney Injury
Some people taking semaglutide injections experience acute kidney injuries or a worsening of kidney disease. The risk may be higher for those with renal impairment.
Acute Pancreatitis
During clinical trials, some of those receiving Wegovy experienced acute pancreatitis, and some cases were fatal.
Diabetic Retinopathy Complications
4% of patients with Type 2 diabetes reported diabetic retinopathy. Patients with diabetes should monitor their condition closely.
Heart Rate Increase
A heart rate increase of four beats per minute occurred in adults in clinical trials. In clinical trials, some patients experienced heart rate increases of 10-20 bpm.
Hypersensitivity Reaction
Patients who are allergic to semaglutide may experience serious reactions, such as anaphylaxis.
Hypoglycemia
Taking Wegovy lowers blood sugar levels and may result in hypoglycemia in some patients.
Thyroid C-Cell Tumors
Research on laboratory animals suggests that the risk of thyroid cancer could be higher in those receiving semaglutide injections.
Suicidal Behavior and Ideation
Clinical trials on other weight management drugs indicate that suicidal behavior and ideation are a concern.

Patients should let their physicians know if they experience any side effects. Additionally, this medication is contraindicated for those taking other medicines with the same active ingredient.

Is There a Wegovy Shortage?

As of October 2023, the FDA lists semaglutide injections on its drug shortage list. The demand for Wegovy and other products is higher than the manufacturers can keep up with. Novo Nordisk states that they currently produce and distribute all dosages but cannot meet patient needs.

Further, the company is not sure when they will be able to make enough to fill Wegovy prescriptions for all doses. The supply shortage means many patients can’t take Wegovy according to prescription guidelines, potentially causing complications in treating their conditions.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.