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Semaglutide and Pancreatitis: Risks, Symptoms, and More

Learn about the potential link between semaglutide medications like Ozempic and Wegovy and pancreatitis. Discover risks, symptoms, and what the research shows.

Semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist medication used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity. It works by mimicking the effects of the GLP-1 hormone to stimulate insulin secretion, suppress appetite, and slow stomach emptying. 

Semaglutide is the active ingredient in the brand-name drugs Ozempic, approved by the FDA in 2017 for type 2 diabetes, and Wegovy, approved in 2021 for chronic weight management.

While generally safe and effective, semaglutide may cause side effects in some people. One potential serious adverse event that has been linked to GLP-1 receptor agonist drugs like semaglutide is acute pancreatitis, or sudden inflammation of the pancreas. 

Here's what you need to know about the possible association between semaglutide and pancreatitis.

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What Is the Dark Side of Semaglutide?

The dark side of semaglutide includes a range of potential side effects, from mild to severe. While the medication is effective for weight loss and diabetes management, it carries risks such as pancreatitis, stomach paralysis, bowel obstructions, and other gastrointestinal complications

There are also concerns about the long-term implications of semaglutide usage, including the potential for serious side effects like pancreatitis. It is important for patients to have a thorough medical assessment before and during treatment with semaglutide to manage these risks.

Semaglutide Side Effects

a woman suffers abdominal pain as side effect of taking semaglutide

The most common side effects of semaglutide medications like Ozempic and Wegovy include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation

These gastrointestinal side effects are usually mild and go away over time as the body adjusts to the medication. However, in rare cases, semaglutide may cause more serious adverse events like pancreatitis.

What is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a gland located behind the stomach that produces digestive enzymes and hormones like insulin. There are two main types:

  1. Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly and lasts for days. It is usually mild but can sometimes be severe and lead to complications.
  2. Chronic pancreatitis is ongoing inflammation that comes and goes over time, eventually causing permanent damage.

Common symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

  • Severe upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Rapid pulse
  • Swollen, tender abdomen

Pancreatitis can lead to serious complications like kidney failure, trouble breathing, infection, and pancreatic cancer if left untreated. If you have symptoms of acute pancreatitis, seek immediate medical care.

Can Weight Loss Medication Cause Pancreatitis?

Yes, weight loss medications, including GLP-1 receptor agonists like semaglutide, have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis. Studies have shown that these medications can lead to a higher incidence of pancreatitis compared to other weight loss drugs. Patients with certain risk factors, such as type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and tobacco use, may be at an even greater risk.

Does Semaglutide Damage Your Pancreas?

Semaglutide has been associated with pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. While pancreatitis can cause damage to the pancreas, the occurrence of this side effect due to semaglutide is considered uncommon. However, if a patient develops pancreatitis while on semaglutide, the medication should be discontinued to prevent further damage.

The Link Between Semaglutide and Pancreatitis

doctor explains pancreas anatomy

Some evidence suggests GLP-1 receptor agonist drugs like semaglutide may increase the risk of acute pancreatitis, although research is limited and conflicting.

A few case reports have documented episodes of acute pancreatitis in patients taking semaglutide medications:

Dawn Gentle developed pancreatitis as a rare but possible side effect after taking Ozempic for three years to manage type 2 diabetes.

A case presented in this article details a 61-year-old female with a history of T2DM, hypertension, and obesity, who developed acute pancreatitis after starting subcutaneous semaglutide.

However, large clinical trials have found pancreatitis to be very rare with semaglutide.

The FDA-approved prescribing information for both Ozempic and Wegovy states that acute pancreatitis has been reported in clinical trials, but data are too limited to establish a causal relationship, based on these studies. The labels advise discontinuing semaglutide promptly if pancreatitis is suspected.

How Often Does Semaglutide Cause Pancreatitis?

The frequency of pancreatitis caused by semaglutide is relatively low. In clinical trials and studies, the incidence of pancreatitis among patients taking semaglutide was not statistically significant, suggesting that it is a possible side effect but does not occur frequently. Acute pancreatitis is listed as an uncommon adverse drug reaction for semaglutide.

How Do I Know if Ozempic Is Causing Pancreatitis?

If you experience symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or fever while taking Ozempic, these could be signs of pancreatitis. A healthcare professional can diagnose the condition through various tests. If you are diagnosed with pancreatitis and are taking Ozempic, your doctor may advise you to stop the medication immediately.

Does Ozempic Damage Your Pancreas?

Ozempic, a brand name for semaglutide, can potentially lead to pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. If pancreatitis occurs, it can cause damage to the pancreas. Therefore, if a patient on Ozempic develops pancreatitis, the medication should be discontinued to prevent further pancreatic damage.

Who is at Risk?

Certain factors may increase the risk of acute pancreatitis while taking semaglutide:

  • A history of pancreatitis
  • Gallstones or very high blood triglyceride levels
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Severe kidney disease
  • Use of other medications associated with pancreatitis

The Ozempic and Wegovy labels recommend doctors consider alternative treatments in patients with a history of pancreatitis. If these individuals are prescribed semaglutide, they should be monitored closely for signs and symptoms of acute pancreatitis, especially during the first few months of treatment.

How Do You Prevent Pancreatitis While on Ozempic?

To prevent pancreatitis while on Ozempic, patients should be aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention if they suspect pancreatitis. Healthcare providers can reduce the risk of negative outcomes by advising patients on what symptoms to look for and how to respond if they develop. 

Patients should also have an in-depth assessment and discussion with a doctor experienced in managing overweight/obesity before starting treatment. Adjusting the dosage or treating side effects with other medications might be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Bottom Line

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While acute pancreatitis has been reported in a small number of patients taking semaglutide drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, the risk appears to be very low based on clinical trial data. More research is needed to confirm whether there is a true causal link.

The potential benefits of semaglutide for blood sugar control and weight loss likely outweigh the possible risks for most patients. However, people with a history of pancreatitis or other risk factors should discuss the pros and cons carefully with their doctor. Do not stop taking semaglutide without consulting your healthcare provider first.

If you experience persistent severe abdominal pain, with or without nausea and vomiting, while taking semaglutide, discontinue the medication and seek medical attention right away to be evaluated for potential pancreatitis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is important to prevent complications.

Be aware of the potential side effects and know when to get help, as with any medication. Work closely with your doctor to determine if semaglutide is right for you based on your individual health history and needs.


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