Anti-Obesity Medication Facts – HealthyWomen

Medically reviewed by Holly Lofton, MD

Until recently, obesity was thought to be a lifestyle choice, but in reality it is a chronic and complex disease. And many people living with obesity need treatment options to help manage it.

By now, you’ve probably heard about anti-obesity medications (AOMs) in the news or by following Oprah on social media. These medications have been around for more than a decade, but studies show latest injectable versions (Wegovy and Zepbound) help people lose more weight than just lifestyle changes and helping people manage their weight over time. This helps reduce the risk of serious diseases, including heart disease (the leading cause of death among women in the US) and type 2 diabetes.

You may have also heard people refer to Ozempic and Mounjaro as OMA. However, these medications, which share the same active ingredient as Wegovy and Zepbound respectively, are not technically AOMs. They have been approved by the FDA to treat diabetes, but because weight loss is a common side effect, they are sometimes prescribed off-label for that purpose.

If you or someone you know is interested in undergoing an AOM, here’s what you need to know.

What are anti-obesity medications?

AOMs are medications that help people lose and control weight.

There are several FDA-approved AOMs for long-term weight management. These include:

  • Semaglutide (Brand names: Wegovy, Rybelsus)
  • Tirzepatide (Trade name: Zepbound)
  • Orlistat (Brand Names: Alli, Xenical)
  • Phentermine-topiramate (Trade name: Qsymia)
  • Naltrexone-bupropion (Trade name: Contrave)
  • Liraglutide (Brand names: Victoza and Saxenda)
  • Setmelanotide (Trade name: Imcivree)

Short-acting AOMs, such as phentermine, may also be prescribed as part of an obesity disease management plan.

How do anti-obesity medications work?

Each AOM works differently to help promote weight loss and maintain a healthy weight. Some help you feel full even if you eat less or help you feel less hungry in general. For example, semaglutide acts like a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which helps slow digestion and signals to the brain that it is full. This medication may be especially helpful for people who experience “food noise” or obsessive thoughts about food that can lead to overeating.

AOMs can also make it harder for the body to absorb fat, which can lead to weight loss.

To find the right OMA for you, talk to your healthcare provider (HCP) about your medical history and what you need to know, including its cost.

Read: Basic health insurance: How to choose health insurance when living with obesity >>

Who can take anti-obesity medications?

you can be a candidate for an OMA if you live with a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or higher and have at least one health condition related to your weightsuch as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obstructive sleep apnea.

It is important to note that BMI is not a perfect measure of a person’s health and not all people with a higher BMI are suitable for an AOM. BMI is a screening tool and just one of the factors to consider before taking medication.

Your body mass index is a measure of your body fat based on height and weight. Current CDC BMI Guidelines:

BMI

weight status

Below 18.5

Under weight

18.5 – 24.9

Healthy weight

25.0 – 29.9

Over weight

30.0 and above

Obesity

How long does it take for an anti-obesity medication to work?

Most people lose weight within three months of starting AOM. Everyone is different, but if you haven’t lost weight after three months, talk to your doctor about trying a different medication.

Research shows that some people who take an OMA lose 10% or more of their starting weight during the first three months. lose only 5% to 10% of your body weight It can help lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and improve overall health when living with obesity.

What are the risks of taking an anti-obesity medication?

Research is being done on the long-term effects of taking an AOM. But you may have side effects, which may vary from person to person.

The most common side effects of AOMs include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Headache attacks
  • Fatigue

How long should you continue taking anti-obesity medications?

Since obesity is a chronic, lifelong condition, AOMs are intended to be long-term medications and you may need stay in them for life. How long each person will need to stay on an AOM is a decision they should make with their healthcare provider. Many people have been using these medications to prepare for beach season, but that is not the intended or approved use and has been creating shortage for people who really need them.

Can you take anti-obesity medications if you are pregnant?

If you plan to become pregnant or are pregnant, you should not take OMA because some medications can harm the fetus. Some drug manufacturers recommend stop an AOM at least two months before getting pregnant.

But here’s a thing: if you’re taking an AOM, you may be more likely to get pregnant. This may be happening for several reasons, including:

  • Some AOMs make birth control pills less effective. If you are taking a GLP-1 medication, delayed digestion may affect your oral contraceptive. You can add protection with barrier methods like the ring, an IUD, and condoms.
  • Weight loss can help increase fertility. Investigation shows that living overweight or obese can affect ovulation (release of eggs) and regular periods, affecting your ability to get pregnant.

What else do you need to know about anti-obesity medications?

If you are prescribed an AOM, your insurance may not cover the medication, so it is important to check with your insurer before moving forward. Otherwise, you could have to pay a very high monthly outlay. Talk to your doctor about which AOM may be best for both your overall health and budget.

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