What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is the brand name for a semaglutide pen injector manufactured by Novo Nordisk. Semaglutide medications increase insulin release, making them useful for diabetes management and weight loss. Other notable semaglutide drugs include Rybelsus® and Wegovy.
Ozempic is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with Type 2 diabetes.
Ozempic falls into a group of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RA). These diabetes drugs use peptides that mimic natural satiety hormones in our bodies. Semaglutide is one of these peptides, though other GLP-1 RAs may use different ones.
By mimicking satiety hormones, the drug can target areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake. This allows the drug to moderate insulin release and appetite.
According to the FDA, the medication dose must be gradually increased weekly to reduce gastrointestinal side effects. Patients are expected to take the drug long term or studies show they will gain the weight back. According to some research, the need to take the drug long term may increase the risk of side effects.
Health issues related to Ozempic
The FDA is currently investigating reports of these health issues filed through its FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS). FAERS allows people to report issues with products directly to the agency. A recent FAERS report shows the FDA is investigating several GLP-1 RA drugs, including Ozempic, for potentially causing intestinal obstructions. The FDA updated Ozempic’s warning label in September 2023 to include potential intestinal blockages.
In addition to consumer reports, studies are starting to link semaglutide drugs to serious health issues.
A May 2023 letter to the editor in the research journal Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B (APSB) discussed these issues. The letter authors urged clinicians to be aware of the adverse effects of drugs like Ozempic on the small intestine.
According to the letter, the effects have so far been insufficiently studied in clinical settings because the trials do not last long enough.
The authors found that the high occurrences of intestinal obstruction emerge 1.6 years after GLP-1 RA treatments, but that most GLP-1 RA clinical trials have not lasted for more than a year. They also cited a study of more than 25,000 subjects that found a 3.5-fold increase in intestinal obstruction rates for people who took GLP-1 RA drugs.
Other studies have also linked Ozempic to intestinal blockages, in addition to gallbladder disease. Intestinal blockage signs and symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps and swelling
- Trouble having a bowel movement or passing gas
Doctors have also recently reported patients with stomach paralysis, also called gastroparesis. Stomach paralysis prevents the stomach’s nerves and muscles from working properly and results in food sitting too long in the stomach. This is called delayed gastric emptying. Common symptoms of gastroparesis include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Acid reflux
- Blood sugar fluctuation
- Feeling full very quickly
- Loss of appetite
- Upper abdominal pain
Any patients taking Ozempic (or any other GLP-1 RA) should speak with their doctor immediately if these symptoms arise.
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