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Weight-loss drugs linked to stomach paralysis, study finds

Researchers found that several popular weight-loss drugs could cause rare but serious complications.
Weight-loss drugs linked to stomach paralysis, study finds
Posted at 7:13 AM, Oct 06, 2023

A new study released this week by researchers from the University of British Columbia claims that popular weight-loss medicines are tied to increased risks of stomach paralysis, pancreatitis and bowel obstruction. 

The medications are known as GLP-1 agonists and include popular brands such as Wegovy, Ozempic, Rybelusus and Saxenda. These drugs were initially prescribed to help manage Type 2 diabetes but have since gained popularity to help patients manage weight. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, these drugs help manage blood sugar levels by triggering insulin release from the pancreas. The drugs also help slow digestion, which causes less glucose to enter the bloodstream. The medicine also affects satiety, allowing patients to feel full after eating, the Cleveland Clinic said. 

But those benefits can come with potential risks, according to University of British Columbia medical student Mohit Sodhi, who co-authored the study. 

"Given the wide use of these drugs, these adverse events, although rare, must be considered by patients thinking about using them for weight loss," Sodhi said. "The risk calculus will differ depending on whether a patient is using these drugs for diabetes, obesity or just general weight loss. People who are otherwise healthy may be less willing to accept these potentially serious adverse events."

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The study compared patients who used GLP-1 agonists versus those who used bupropion-naltrexone, a drug used to treat chronic obesity. The Canadian study found that those who use GLP-1 agonists face a 9.09-times higher risk of pancreatitis, a 4.22-times higher risk of bowel obstruction and a 3.67-times higher risk of stomach paralysis. 

The study noted that these incidents were still rare, but the widespread use of the drugs could lead to "hundreds of thousands of people experiencing these conditions."

“These drugs are becoming increasingly accessible, and it is concerning that, in some cases, people can simply go online and order these kinds of medications when they may not have a full understanding of what could potentially happen. This goes directly against the mantra of informed consent,” said Sodhi.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that pancreatitis is among the rare but severe side effects that GLP-1 agonists can cause. More common, but less severe side effects, include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration said it was adding warning labels to Ozempic and Wegovy notifying patients the drugs could cause intestinal blockage.

"Because these reactions are reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size, it is not always possible to reliably estimate their frequency or establish a causal relationship to drug exposure," the FDA said.

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