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Up until late last year, most people had never heard of Ozempic. But the medication that’s designed to help manage insulin levels in patients with type 2 diabetes has become a household name after reports started circulating of people losing weight on the prescription drug. Now Ozempic has been on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of drug shortages for months, but that hasn’t slowed all the buzz surrounding it. Naturally, people have a lot of questions around how the drug works and how long you can stay on Ozempic.
Again, Ozempic technically isn’t approved for use as a weight-loss drug. However, Ozempic is a brand name for semaglutide, which is FDA-approved for weight management under the brand Wegovy. Both Wegovy and Ozempic are made by Novo Nordisk. And some doctors will prescribe Ozempic for weight loss off-label.
If you're curious, here's when it might make sense to go on Ozempic for weight loss. But as always, only you and your doctor can make the decision together regarding whether a semaglutide is right for you.
That brings us back to the big question: How long can someone stay on Ozempic? And is this something you’d take for a month or two and move on, or is it more of a long-term medication? Here, weight-loss experts explain.
Meet the experts: Kunal Shah, MD, is an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center.
Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, MBA, is an obesity medicine physician, scientist, and Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Jena Shaw Tronieri, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a researcher who focuses on improving weight loss treatment outcomes for patients with obesity.
How Ozempic Works
Quick refresher: Ozempic is an injectable drug that’s typically taken once a week. It can reduce the risk of a stroke, heart attack, or death in adults who have type 2 diabetes along with heart and blood vessel disease, according to Medline Plus.
By causing your body to produce more insulin, it helps escort glucose (i.e. blood sugar) into your body’s cells, where it’s used for energy.
Ozempic helped lower A1C levels (a measure of average blood glucose levels for the past two to three months) to under 7 percent (which is an amount recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA)), research cited on Ozempic's website notes.
On the weight-loss front, Ozempic basically signals to your brain to eat less and store less, while slowing down food movement through your stomach, helping with satiety, says Fatima Cody Stanford, MD an obesity medicine physician, scientist, and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
When do you start seeing weight-loss results on Ozempic?
First, a couple things to be aware of: Everyone is different so results can vary. Doctors also typically start patients at the lowest dose and then ramp up the dosage every four weeks or so, explains Kunal Shah, MD, an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center.
“Usually, patients don’t see weight loss with the lowest dose—0.25 milligrams," he says. "But they start seeing it after 0.5 milligrams. For most people, it will take about a month to see results.”
Dr. Stanford agrees. “For patients who respond to these medications, we would anticipate that [they] would respond with weight loss within the first month,” she says. “If patients have not responded with weight loss within three months, we would consider them a non-responder to the medication.”
How long can you stay on Ozempic?
Ozempic is designed to be a long-term medication. “For patients who are responders to these medications, we would recommend that [they] should stay on these indefinitely,” Dr. Stanford says.
There are “no restrictions” as of now on how long someone can be on Ozempic, says Jena Shaw Tronieri, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a researcher who focuses on improving weight loss treatment outcomes for patients with obesity. “These medications are intended to be prescribed chronically to assist with weight loss and weight-loss maintenance, which is often a difficult area,” she says.
That said, doctors ultimately don’t yet know what the potential long-term effects of using this medication to treat obesity may be.
Risks Of Taking Ozempic Long-Term
The risks of taking Ozempic long-term are hard to quantify right now, since there's only so much data to go on. (One study looked at two years’ worth of data on semaglutide to treat obesity.)
It's important to note that Ozempic has what’s known as a “black box” warning from the FDA due to its potential to cause specific types of thyroid tumors and thyroid cancer based on rodent studies. “It’s a theoretical risk,” Dr. Shah says. “It’s been seen in rats but not in humans. I have not heard of it happening to anyone.”
There is also a risk of developing pancreatitis—an inflammation of the pancreas—but it’s very low risk, Dr. Shah says.
Overall, “there are no major significant safety concerns,” Tronieri says. “There are no specific risks for long-term use of semaglutide,” Dr. Stanford concurs. “For patients, we would expect them to have better blood sugar control, more total body weight loss, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”
What happens if you stop taking Ozempic?
If you stop taking Ozempic in the short term—like, you run out while you’re on vacation—you should be OK, Dr. Stanford says. “You will likely not have any issues as the medication can last in the system for up to eight weeks,” she says. But if you stop taking it long-term, “there’s a pretty high chance of weight regain,” Dr. Shah says. The risk of health complications like heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes also rises with weigh regain, he points out.
The bottom line: Overall, experts say that Ozempic and semaglutide can be helpful tools for some patients to lose weight. If you’re interested in going on Ozempic, have a conversation with your prescribing doctor about what you expect from the medication and how it may fit into your lifestyle. They should be able to offer personalized guidance from there.
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