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Feb 17, 2022
5 min read

Wegovy (semaglutide): doses, uses, risks, and side effects

Wegovy (semaglutide) is a prescription weight loss medication. When combined with a healthy diet and exercise, it may help you lose more weight than dieting alone. Wegovy works by slowing stomach emptying and impacting hormones that control blood sugar levels. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, indigestion, constipation, and abdominal pain.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Wegovy (semaglutide) is a prescription weight loss medication. When combined with a healthy diet and exercise, it may help you lose more weight than dieting alone.

Keep reading to learn how Wegovy may support weight loss and what you should know before starting treatment. 

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What is Wegovy?

Wegovy is a prescription medication that helps with weight loss when combined with reducing calories and increasing exercise. 

The generic drug name for this medication is semaglutide, which is a type of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist. Semaglutide is sold under other brand names like Ozempic and Rybelsus.

GLP-1 receptor agonists mimic the actions of the hormone GLP-1 to help control blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full longer. These medications work by (Trujillo, 2021):

  • Stimulating insulin secretion: GLP-1 signals the pancreas to release insulin—the hormone that helps bring sugar into cells from the bloodstream—after meals and when blood sugar is high. 
  • Delaying stomach emptying: GLP-1 agonists help slow down digestion and keep food in the stomach longer. This can help you feel full more quickly and stay full for longer, potentially reducing your overall food intake.
  • Preventing the release of sugar from cells: These medications help decrease secretion of glucagon—the hormone that helps bring glucose out of storage and raise blood sugar levels—to keep blood sugar more stable and prevent high levels.

Wegovy uses

Wegovy is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help with chronic weight management problems in adults with obesity or overweight with at least one weight-related health condition, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure (Novo Nordisk, 2021). 

(Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, while overweight is categorized by a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9.) 

If you’ve just started taking Wegovy to reach a healthy weight, you may feel anxious to see the number on the scale go down. Keep in mind that weight loss can take time, and weight loss drugs like Wegovy alone may not be enough. Wegovy is designed to support your healthy weight goals when you combine it with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity. 

Still, it may help make your weight loss journey easier and support sustainable weight loss. One 68-week trial showed once-weekly injections of Wegovy helped participants lose about 28 more pounds than the control group (Wilding, 2021).

Wegovy side effects

Because Wegovy partially works by slowing down digestion, gastrointestinal issues tend to be the most common side effects in people who take this medication (Novo Nordisk, 2021). 

Common side effects of Wegovy include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Bloating and gas
  • Indigestion
  • Acid reflux

For some people, these side effects improve and become less severe as treatment continues. If any of these side effects bother you or your symptoms don’t improve, talk with your healthcare provider for medical advice to manage the symptoms and potentially adjust your medications.

Wegovy dosage

Wegovy comes as a prefilled injection pen. It’s available in the following strengths:

  • 0.25 milligrams (mg) per 0.5 milliliters (ml)
  • 0.5 mg per 0.5 ml
  • 1 mg per 0.5 ml
  • 1.7 mg per 0.75 ml
  • 2.4 mg per 0.75 ml 

The prefilled pens come with a tiny needle to make them easy to use and minimize discomfort. It’s given as a subcutaneous injection, which means it’s injected under the surface of the skin. Typically, healthcare providers recommend that you inject the medication under the skin of your upper arm, stomach, or thigh. 

The injections are once-weekly, start at a low dose, and gradually increase. Here’s an example of a Wegovy treatment plan (note that your healthcare provider may personalize your plan to your specific needs):

  • Weeks 1-4: 0.25 mg given once weekly
  • Weeks 5-8: 0.5 mg given once weekly
  • Weeks 9-12: 1 mg given once weekly
  • Weeks 13-16: 1.7 mg given once weekly
  • Weeks 16 and beyond: 2.4 mg given once weekly

Wegovy warnings

Wegovy comes with several warnings. It’s important to discuss these warnings with your healthcare provider so you can recognize any signs of a potential complication.

Warnings when taking Wegovy include:

Thyroid c-cell tumors

Wegovy carries a boxed warning (the FDA’s strongest warning) for the risk of thyroid C-cell tumors and medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). However, it’s unknown whether Wegovy causes these tumors in humans. 

Animal studies show that semaglutide can induce thyroid C-cell tumors in rodents. Still, this effect hasn’t been found in human clinical studies (Singh, 2021). 

Because researchers have yet to determine the effects on people, healthcare professionals recommend using caution and evaluating the benefits and risks of taking semaglutide.  

Acute pancreatitis

In clinical trials, some people developed acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) (Singh, 2021). Symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Severe abdominal pain that spreads to your back or chest
  • Pain that worsens after eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Bloating

Stop taking Wegovy and contact your healthcare provider immediately if you develop symptoms of pancreatitis. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you have a history of pancreatitis before starting medications for obesity management like Wegovy. 

Acute gallbladder disease

Some clinical trial participants experienced gallbladder issues, such as gallstones or cholelithiasis, while taking Wegovy. Signs of gallstones include sudden pain in the abdomen or back, nausea, and vomiting. 

Talk with your healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms. If they suspect gallbladder problems, they’ll likely recommend testing to investigate the symptoms. 

Hypoglycemia

Since semaglutide helps lower blood sugar levels, there is a risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). 

Overall, clinical trials show there is only a low risk of hypoglycemia when semaglutide is taken alone. However, when combined with other blood glucose-lowering medications, like insulin or metformin, the risk for hypoglycemia is increased (Singh, 2021). 

Acute kidney injury

Acute kidney injuries can develop when taking Wegovy. Your healthcare provider will likely monitor your renal function during treatment, especially if you’re experiencing digestive symptoms or have a history of impaired renal function (Novo Nordisk, 2021).

Allergic reaction

There have been reports of anaphylactic allergic reactions to Wegovy. Seek medical help and contact your doctor if you experience an allergic reaction. 

Diabetic retinopathy

Clinical trials suggest semaglutide may worsen the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy (diabetes-related vision problems). When taking Wegovy, your healthcare provider should closely monitor you if you have a history of diabetic retinopathy. Contact them immediately if you experience any vision changes. 

Increased heart rate

Occasionally, irregular heartbeat and increased heart rate have been reported (Singh, 2021). It’s recommended to monitor your heart rate while taking Wegovy. 

Suicidal behavior and ideation

The prescribing information contains a warning to monitor for signs of depression or suicidal thoughts. Discontinue Wegovy and contact your healthcare provider if any new mental health symptoms develop while taking it (Novo Nordisk, 2021). 

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts or behaviors of suicide or self-harm, help is available for free. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor

Wegovy interactions

Wegovy may interact with other medications you take. Since Wegovy slows digestion by delaying stomach emptying, it may impact how other medications are absorbed. 

It may also interact with other medications used to treat diabetes and cause blood glucose levels to dip too low. It’s not recommended to take Wegovy with other GLP-1 receptor agonists. 

Be sure to discuss all prescription drugs and supplements you take with your healthcare provider before starting Wegovy or anything new while taking this weight loss medication. 

Trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight can be challenging. Still, maintaining a healthy weight is important to lower the risk of obesity-related complications. 

If you’re struggling with reaching a healthy weight, talk to your healthcare provider about your experience so they can assist you in creating a weight management plan. 

References

  1. Novo Nordisk. (2021). Highlights of prescribing information wegovy (semaglutide) injection. Retrieved Feb. 16, 2022 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2021/215256s000lbl.pdf 
  2. Singh, G., Krauthamer, M., & Bjalme-Evans, M. (2022). Wegovy (semaglutide): a new weight loss drug for chronic weight management. Journal of Investigative Medicine: The Official Publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, 70(1), 5–13. doi: 10.1136/jim-2021-001952. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8717485/ 
  3. Trujillo, J. M., Nuffer, W., & Smith, B. A. (2021). GLP-1 receptor agonists: an updated review of head-to-head clinical studies. Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 12. doi: 10.1177/2042018821997320. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7953228/ 
  4. Wilding, J., Batterham, R. L., Calanna, S., Davies, M., Van Gaal, L. F., Lingvay, I., et al. (2021). Once-weekly semaglutide in adults with overweight or obesity. The New England Journal of Medicine, 384(11), 989. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2032183. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33567185/