With obesity, type 2 diabetes, or having a large body weight, it can be difficult to find ways to safely shed off pounds for a healthy lifestyle without direct surgical treatment. Luckily, another option has risen in popularity in the form of subcutaneous semaglutide, marketed as WeGovy or Ozempic, and oral semaglutide, also known as Rybelsus. As with any drug, there may be a list of long-term side effects you need to be aware of.
So do semaglutide injections have long-term side effects? Other than common side effects from the body adjusting to the drug, there are few that are listed. Additional long-term side effects like a medical condition or organ damage are extremely rare but if you’re experiencing worsening or extreme side effects, seek medical attention immediately.
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Wegovy, Ozempic, and Rybelsus are all products for a medication called semaglutide — a GLP-1 RA or a GLP-1 receptor agonist that are designed to treat type 2 diabetes by increasing insulin production in the pancreas. Those with type 2 diabetes have higher blood sugar due to a lack of incretin hormones to signal the creation of insulin, thus leading to harder weight management.
By helping the pancreas create insulin, the semaglutide group of medication can potentially reduce the possibility of adverse events in the heart due to high blood pressure from a high blood sugar level like heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, and other similar complications from diabetes or obesity.
The initial dosage of semaglutide medication will aid in the production of insulin thereby lowering blood pressure. If the dose increases to about 2 to 2.4 mg of semaglutide, it can also suppress appetite by affecting the signals in the brain, assisting any weight loss regimen done to lose excessive body weight. Your doctor will review your body and its reactions to drugs before making any dosage changes.
For weight loss, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, semaglutide medication is best used with a comprehensive weight loss regimen that includes exercise and a low-calorie and low-fat diet. It is not meant as a replacement of insulin but as a supplement to control blood sugar level. As such, it should not be used as medication for type 1 diabetes and diabetic ketoacidosis.
Any adverse side effects or long term changes from the medication are due to its influence in the cardiometabolic system as it affects the blood sugar and blood pressure in the body. A key 2021 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal disorders and gallbladder disorders as common safety points for the drug. Adverse events are uncommon, only occurring in less than 10% of the participants.
Hypoglycemia is a condition where your blood sugar levels are dangerously below its regular levels. Given the effects of semaglutide medications, hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels can be thought of as a common side effect as it could accidentally lower it to a dangerous threshold.
However, it does not directly cause hypoglycemia. The aforementioned study noted that only 0.6% of the participants experienced hypoglycemia. However, its symptoms can arise when oral semaglutide or a semaglutide injection is combined with other weight loss medication that lower blood sugar levels like insulin and sulfonylureas. The chances of hypoglycemia can also increase when skipping meals, overexerting the body, and alcohol consumption.
These symptoms include sweating, headaches, shakiness, anxiety, dizziness, tingling around the mouth, and pale skin. It also shares a common side effect with semaglutide medication: nausea — which may prevent the patient from partaking in essential meals to raise a low blood sugar level.
To prevent adverse events from occurring like fainting or seizures, always ensure you are consuming the sufficient amount of calorie intake for daily activity and weight loss from exercise. If you have severe hyperglycemia, they should carry foods high in glucose like sugar cubes, fruit juice, and honey, glucose tablets or gel, and other sugary snack foods that can be eaten if symptoms appear or in an emergency.
Semaglutide is the first drug approved for chronic weight management since 2014. Most of the well-known long-term effects happen in rare cases. In reference to the study, only about 10% of the 1,951 participants in a 68-week period experienced these long-term disorders.
The most common long-term effect is gastrointestinal disorder. Common side effects of semaglutide may be a result of an underlying disorder that is developing as a reaction to changes in blood sugar, an induced boost in insulin production, and rapid weight loss. Severe levels of these symptoms may signal a rare case of pancreatitis.
Semaglutide injections could also result in kidney damage. Due to its benefits in blood pressure and regulating blood sugar in patients who are obese or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it may have benifits in kidney health, but the opposite may happen without maintaining proper hydration levels and nutrition.
Complications in the gallbladder—the organ that produces bile for the digestion of fats— otherwise known as hepatobiliary disorders may also occur because of the rapid rate of weight loss of the medication.
Diabetic retinopathy is also another extremely rare possibility. This occurs when blood vessels in the eye are damaged because of diabetes. Older patients or those with a long history of type 2 diabetes may be at risk for diabetic retinopathy. Weight management, weight loss, and proper maintenance of type 2 diabetes can prevent diabetic retinopathy.
An unseen side effect of semaglutide treatment and weight loss treatment are psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. This may be caused due to other common side effects as well as the mental load and willpower required to be consistent with a weight loss program and/or maintaining type 2 diabetes. Consider consulting a therapist to help make the treatment more bearable and it can ease some stress on the body.
Other long-term symptoms of semaglutide treatment for weight loss is a rapid heartbeat that doesn’t decrease when rested, dehydration, dizziness, rashes, itching, and swelling around the face. Always consult with your doctor to help manage these symptoms and diagnose any developing conditions at an early stage.
Most long-term conditions or side effects from subcutaneous semaglutide happen in exceedingly uncommon cases. But note that there are numerous common side effects from semaglutide that happen as a result of its benefits or as a symptom of another condition. Some of these side effects go away naturally as the body is able to adjust to the effects of semaglutide and the increased rate of weight loss it provides. The most common side effects are:
Nausea was reported in nearly half the participants of the study. A patient with type 2 diabetes and those taking higher doses for weight loss are particularly sensitive to nausea. This may be a result of the changes in metabolism. However, this eases as the body adjusts to the doses of semaglutide.
The next frequent side effect is a change in bowel movement resulting in diarrhea, occurring in about 30% of patients, or constipation, occurring in 24% of patients as the higher concentration of insulin may cause a different digestion rate than the body is used to.
This is more likely for those taking it for weight loss as it manifests in higher doses of semaglutide. As such, abdominal pain, stomach pain, gas, burping, swelling in the belly, and vomiting are other noted side effects of the treatment.
The change in metabolism and blood pressure may also cause dizziness, fatigue, cold sweats, bloating, confusion, slurred speech, fever, and loss of appetite. Report any new side effects to your doctor to ensure that the semaglutide doesn’t cause any harmful conditions to develop into adverse events.
It can be difficult adjusting to a new drug as it usually requires a lifestyle intervention to properly adjust to it. Taking the following steps will help a patient undergoing weight loss or weight management from subcutaneous semaglutide to maximize its effects while preventing any adverse events.
The best method to manage rapid weight loss and potential side effects is regulating nutrients and hydration. Incorporating semaglutide to a patient’s weight loss regimen may require sizable changes in their diet. If the patient is experiencing stomach pain, for example, they may need to incorporate foods with nearly zero fat and high in starch so that they may be easily digested.
Hydration must also be properly maintained to prevent any kidney damage and help regulate blood pressure. It can be hard to properly maintain as it can be lowered due to vomiting and diarrhea. Remember that drinking water throughout the day can help refresh the body. Avoid drinking drinks high in sugar, caffeine, and dairy because it can disrupt the body’s digestive system while it adjusts to the semaglutide medication.
The last step is to have weekly or bi-weekly consultations with your doctor in order to report new side effects and to adjust the dosage if necessary. Additionally, when a patient is using other medication for weight loss or maintenance for type 2 diabetes, it may cause side effects to compound or develop a disorder. Be in regular contact with your doctor so that they may observe your condition and body weight while carrying any emergency medication.
Adverse events may happen due to the body’s reaction to semaglutide, the additional effects of other weight management medication, or the inability to properly recover from a weight loss regimen. If any of the aforementioned side effects persist despite lifestyle changes or weeks after achieving a weight loss goal, consult a doctor immediately.
In the label of any semaglutide product is a warning to consult a doctor immediately when a lump or swelling in the neck has formed, difficulty breathing and swallowing, and a suddenly hoarse voice as these are symptoms for thyroid cancer.
If you are experiencing side effects, do not skip any injections or consumption of oral semaglutide without a doctor’s approval. However, if the side effects increase to debilitating levels, it may be due to a developing condition. Stop taking any doses of semaglutide injection or oral semaglutide and inform your doctor.
Semaglutide treatment can be an effective weight loss option when other anti obesity medication and weight management procedures have failed. As a relatively new weight loss drug, its long-term side effects have yet to be extensively researched. However, a licensed medical provider who is intimately familiar with the makeup of the medication can assist you with any side effects that can occur in the weight loss treatment.
At Dr. V Medical Aesthetics, we can safely treat your diabetes or obesity with safe and effective semaglutide injections. We can also provide a Skinny Dip IV and other formulas to help boost your general wellness while assisting in weight loss. Book an appointment now to start your weight management journey.
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