Weight loss: GLP-1 agonists may increase risk of stomach paralysis

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
A person filling up an injection with fluid from a vial, depicting GLP-1 agonists like OzempicShare on Pinterest
Weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy can have many side effects. Malcom Jackson for The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • There has recently been a lot of attention around using GLP-1 agonists for weight loss.
  • Past research shows that GLP-1 agonists have potential side effects, including stomach paralysis.
  • New research from the University of British Columbia provides more evidence linking the use of GLP-1 agonists with an increased risk for stomach paralysis, pancreatitis, and bowel obstruction.

Over the last year, the news and social media have been saturated with headlines, advertisements, and other information about using medications like Ozempic and Wegovy for weight loss.

Previous research has shown these medications — which are a class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists — to be Health">effective in helping people lose weight.

However, just like all medications, GLP-1 agonists also have potential side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache.

And because one of the things GLP-1 agonists do is slow the emptying of the stomach, past studies also link GLP-1 agonists to a possible risk of gastroparesis or stomach paralysis.

Now, new research from the University of British Columbia provides more evidence linking the use of GLP-1 agonists with an increased risk for serious gastrointestinal issues, including stomach paralysis, pancreatitis, and bowel obstruction.

This study was recently published in JAMA.

For this study, Sodhi and his team examined health insurance claim records for about 16 million people in the United States to look for prescriptions of either semaglutide or liraglutide between 2006 and 2020.

The study included data from people with a recent history of obesity and excluded those with diabetes or who have been prescribed another anti-diabetes medication.

Scientists analyzed the data to see how many people developed one of four gastrointestinal conditions — pancreatitis, bowel obstruction, gastroparesis, and biliary disease. Those findings were then compared to people who took a combination of bupropion and naltrexone for weight loss.

Researchers found that the participants who took GLP-1 agonists had a little over nine times higher risk of developing pancreatitis, 4.22 times higher risk of having a bowel obstruction, and 3.67 times increased risk for gastroparesis, compared to people who took bupropion-naltrexone.

“We are not entirely surprised [by these results]. There have been many anecdotal reports and case reports in the literature of these adverse events in patients using these medications for weight loss. However, no epidemiologic study investigated this risk,” Sodhi said.

“We are strong proponents for informed patient consent. We believe it is crucial for patients to have a full understanding of the potential adverse events associated with any medical therapy that they choose to pursue. We also hope that our study can help inform healthcare providers and make them aware of these risks,” he added.

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