10 Wegovy side effects and how to manage them
LAST UPDATED: Jul 26, 2023
9 MIN READ
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL COVER
If you are looking at options to help with weight loss, Wegovy might be a good option for you. The drug is very effective in helping treat obesity and overweight when other methods such as diet and exercise haven’t been successful.
But what about Wegovy’s side effects? Read on to learn more about the most common side effects of Wegovy and how to manage them.
What is Wegovy?
Wegovy (active ingredient semaglutide) is an FDA-approved injectable prescription drug that helps with weight management. It’s meant for adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or more or with a BMI of 27 kg/m2 or greater and at least one weight-related condition (like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes mellitus, or high cholesterol). Like Victoza, Ozempic, and Saxenda, Wegovy belongs to the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists drug class.
Wegovy contains semaglutide, the same active ingredient as Ozempic, but at a slightly higher dose in its maximum strength. Unlike many other drugs in this class, Wegovy is only approved for weight management rather than lowering blood sugar.
Wegovy can help you reach your long-term weight goals as you navigate your weight loss journey, especially when combined with a healthy diet and exercise habits. The medication works by slowing how fast food moves through your digestive system and decreasing your appetite. This allows you to feel fuller longer and ultimately consume fewer calories, which helps people lose weight effectively: in one study, participants taking semaglutide lost nearly 15% of their body weight on average after 68 weeks (about a year and four months).
Wegovy Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.
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Common side effects of Wegovy
Many of the more common side effects of Wegovy are related to the digestive system–around 3 out of 4 people experience some form of a gastrointestinal issue (i.e. nausea, diarrhea, etc.) while taking Wegovy. This is understandable since the drug slows down how quickly your stomach empties, and food stays in there longer.
These side effects appear when you increase your Wegovy dose (more on that later) and go away over time as your body adjusts to the medication. Most people develop these side effects at some point within the first 5 months of using the drug. Less than 7% of people had to stop taking their Wegovy because of their side effects.
Some of the most common side effects include:
Abdominal pain or indigestion
Heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
Skin reaction at the injection site
Low blood sugar (especially if you take diabetes meds)
Let’s focus on 10 common side effects and discuss tips for effectively managing each.
The most common side effect of Wegovy is nausea, affecting 44% of adults taking Wegovy. Those who develop nausea tend to do so within a few days of increasing their dose and it usually gets better on its own over time.
How to manage nausea
Knowing that your highest risk of developing nausea is right after increasing your dose allows you to take steps to try to prevent or minimize it. Eating certain foods, like fried, oily, or spicy foods, or exposure to strong smells may make symptoms worse in some people. Some experts say that foods like ginger may actually help alleviate nausea. Alternatively, eating more slowly or eating smaller portions may help to relieve or even prevent nausea. Lastly, some people find that taking small sips of water or sucking on ice chips throughout the day also helps.
If your nausea does not improve or becomes so severe that you are not interested in eating at all, you should seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
How to manage diarrhea
Ensure you stay hydrated with drinks like water, fruit juices, broth, etc., especially if you have frequent diarrhea. However, avoid drinks with caffeine, as they can speed up your digestive system and worsen your diarrhea. Try to eat more high-fiber foods like bananas and whole grains, such as brown rice or oatmeal. Not only can these foods help curb your hunger, they also take longer to digest and may help slow things down to decrease your diarrhea. Some people find that dairy products containing lactose or cow milk protein worsen their diarrhea, even if they are not lactose-intolerant, so you may want to avoid these foods for the short term. Over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol are another option that may relieve your symptoms.
However, if your diarrhea lasts more than several days, reach out to your healthcare professional.
If you are already experiencing nausea, you are at higher risk of vomiting. And since one of the ways Wegovy works is to have food stay in your stomach longer, vomiting is a common side effect. However, like many other side effects, it will likely improve in a few days. 1 in 4 people taking Wegovy experience vomiting.
How to manage vomiting
Things you do to treat your nausea can also help with vomiting. Ginger may help prevent vomiting by decreasing your nausea. Eating smaller portions or avoiding trigger foods (fried, oily, spicy foods, etc.) may help prevent vomiting—you may even want to take a break from solid foods altogether or just stick to bland food for a few days (think toast, crackers, etc.). Make sure you stay hydrated, even if you can’t keep much water down—suck on ice chips or ice pops to get the liquid your body needs without further aggravating your stomach. Like with nausea, stay away from caffeinated beverages until your symptoms improve.
If your vomiting is not improving, contact your healthcare provider. They may recommend a prescription anti-nausea medication like Zofran (generic ondansetron).
People experiencing constipation after taking Wegovy still need to stay hydrated and drink plenty of liquids. Getting dehydrated can make it more challenging to have a bowel movement and exacerbate constipation.
How to manage constipation
Make sure you get 25–30 grams of fiber daily—this can come from high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. Alternatively, if you don’t get enough fiber in your diet alone, you can consider adding fiber supplements. Some people also find relief from over-the-counter laxatives or stool softeners like Miralax or Colace, especially when taken daily (until the symptoms resolve).
Consult with your healthcare provider if you cannot get relief or your constipation keeps returning.
Looking at the list of common side effects, it should come as no surprise that most cases of abdominal pain with Wegovy are mild and directly linked to one of the other gastrointestinal side effects, like nausea, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or heartburn. However, some people experience stomach pain from indigestion or general belly discomfort. This feeling mainly stems from the drug slowing down food movement through your digestive tract.
How to manage abdominal pain
Treating the underlying cause (e.g., vomiting, bloating, etc.) is the most effective way to manage abdominal pain. Another thing you can do is take small bites and eat smaller portions to try to alleviate or reduce this feeling.
Rarely, abdominal pain worsens to the point that it becomes severe—in these situations, this may be a sign of acute pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas. This is a serious side effect that requires medical attention. If you develop severe abdominal pain, pain that won’t go away, pain that seems to radiate toward your back, or pain associated with a fever or intractable vomiting, seek urgent in-person medical care immediately.
Headache is a common side effect of many medications. People taking Wegovy may experience headaches because of the resulting (and often desired) change in eating and drinking habits. Some people develop headaches when they decrease how much they eat or drink.
How to manage headaches
Hydration is essential—drinking plenty of water can help prevent and alleviate headaches. You can also consider taking over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen).
If your headaches won’t go away, grow severe, or are associated with vomiting or changes in vision, stop taking your medication and contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Fatigue, like headaches, is a frequent, nonspecific side effect that may be due to the change in your eating and drinking habits that happens with Wegovy.
How to manage fatigue
You can try to stave off fatigue by eating and drinking enough throughout the day. Getting enough quality sleep can also help prevent and improve tiredness.
At baseline, about 20% of adults in the US experience heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). On top of that, if you have food (and consequently stomach acids) sitting in your stomach for longer periods of time, you are at a higher risk of developing heartburn. Since Wegovy slows digestion, approximately 5% of people experience heartburn on the medication.
How to manage heartburn
Avoid foods that can trigger heartburn, such as spicy foods, fried foods, tomatoes or other acidic foods, coffee, bubbly drinks, etc., especially in the few days after increasing your medication dose.
Over-the-counter medications like TUMS or famotidine (Pepcid) may help if you develop heartburn. Some people also find relief from something as simple as chewing gum or foods with ginger. Certain positions, like lying flat, can exacerbate heartburn because they allow the acid to travel up toward your esophagus (the tube leading from your mouth to your stomach) causing irritation. In this situation, you can elevate the head of your bed with a second pillow or try sleeping on your side to ease your symptoms. Also, try to avoid eating at least 3 hours before bedtime to try to decrease your symptoms.
If your heartburn worsens or doesn’t improve, regardless of what you try, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
Many things can lead to dizziness. Eating less, not hydrating enough, or losing fluids through diarrhea or vomiting can cause dizziness or make it worse. People who take diabetes medications that lower blood sugar, like metformin or insulin, are at higher risk of their blood sugar levels dropping too low (hypoglycemia) and causing dizziness. Other symptoms of low blood sugar include shaking, sweating, increased heart rate, and feeling hungry. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about your medications before starting Wegovy.
How to manage dizziness
If you are feeling dizzy, ensure you are eating and drinking enough. And if the dizziness does not improve, contact your healthcare provider.
Injection site reactions
Irritation and other issues can develop at the injection site whenever a medication is injected under the skin (subcutaneously). It is not unusual to see a small amount of tenderness, mild redness, or very mild swelling at the injection site that typically resolves on its own.
How to manage injection site reactions
You can lower the likelihood of experiencing these symptoms by cleaning the skin well before the injection and injecting the medication at a 90-degree angle to the skin. Another thing to try is rotating your injection sites so you are not always injecting in the same spot. Applying a cool compress (a cool, damp towel or washcloth) to the area can help if you develop mild tenderness or irritation.
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Less common side effects
When it comes to side effects, most people who develop adverse effects will experience one of the mild side effects mentioned earlier; however, rare and potentially serious side effects may occur in people taking Wegovy, including:
Facial swelling: Serious allergic reactions, like swelling of the face, lips, throat, or tongue, are rare but can occur with Wegovy. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include a severe rash or itching, feeling faint or dizzy, and problems breathing or swallowing. If you develop any of these symptoms, stop using the medication and seek emergency medical care.
Fast heartbeat (tachycardia): Some people taking Wegovy experience increased heart rate. It is usually an average increase of 1–4 beats per minute (bpm) from your resting heart rate. However, you may notice a larger bump in heart rate, closer to 10–20 bpm or more from your resting heart rate.
Kidney problems: Rarely, people have developed new or worsening kidney failure while taking Wegovy, especially in people with a history of kidney disease or dehydration from severe nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Gallbladder problems: While rare, gallbladder problems are potentially serious side effects of Wegovy. Issues with your gallbladder, like gallstones, cause abdominal pain, yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes (jaundice), and clay-colored stool. You can also develop gallbladder disease not just from the medication itself, but from substantial or rapid weight loss. If you experience symptoms of gallbladder disease, stop using the medication and contact your healthcare provider.
Depression or suicidal thoughts: Rarely, people reported feelings of depression, mood changes, or thoughts of harming themselves while taking other weight management medications. This could potentially also occur with Wegovy. If you or your loved ones notice you are showing any of these unusual changes in mood or behavior, stop the medication immediately and seek medical advice.
You should also know that because animal studies of drugs similar to Wegovy showed an increased risk of thyroid cancer, Wegovy carries a boxed warning from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even though this has not been demonstrated with Wegovy in humans, the FDA warns against giving anyone with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (a type of thyroid cancer) or a history of Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2) GLP-1 agonists like Wegovy.
How long do Wegovy side effects last?
Most of the side effects from Wegovy are mild or moderate and usually last a few days to weeks, typically being worse in the days following an increase in your weekly injection dose. In fact, less than 7% of people in clinical trials felt that their side effects were bad enough to warrant discontinuing Wegovy. The side effects usually clear up after stopping the medication altogether.
How to avoid side effects on Wegovy
To get the most out of your Wegovy, it’s good to understand what to expect concerning side effects and how to manage them. Experts recommend starting at the lowest dose of Wegovy and gradually working your way up. Doing this allows you to monitor your weight loss goals and any side effects you may be experiencing. Here are some general tips to follow to try to avoid the side effects of Wegovy:
Take your Wegovy at the right time: Keep to a schedule—take your Wegovy on the same day every week, regardless of the time of day and with or without food.
Rotate the injection site: Try to rotate your sites—always injecting Wegovy into the same spot increases your chances of developing a skin reaction. You can inject the medication into either thigh, abdomen, or upper arm.
Drink plenty of water: Many of the more common side effects are related to not getting enough hydration. Drinking enough fluids while taking Wegovy may help avoid potential side effects.
Of course, you can always talk to your healthcare provider as they may have additional tips for you to try avoiding Wegovy side effects.
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.
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