Long-Term Effects of Wegovy: 7 Potential Risks

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 05/23/2024

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea — oh my. The short-term effects of Wegovy® aren’t fun. But if you’re considering taking it for the long haul (or perhaps you’ve already started treatment), you might be wondering about the long-term effects of Wegovy. 

To put your mind at ease straight away, long-term effects are rare, and Wegovy is considered safe for most people. Still, it’s good to be aware of the risks. 

Potential Wegovy long-term side effects include:

  • Pancreatitis

  • Acute kidney injury

  • Gallbladder problems

  • Increased heart rate 

  • Diabetic retinopathy 

  • Mental health issues

  • Thyroid cancer 

Read on to find out more about these long-term effects and how long you can safely take Wegovy.

Before we get into what might happen in rare cases, we’ve just got to say: Wegovy is generally considered a safe drug for most people. More research is needed into the long-term effects, but complications are rare, and for many, the benefits of taking Wegovy outweigh the risks.

With that caveat out of the way, here are the potential long-term effects of Wegovy you should know about.

1. Pancreatitis 

Acute pancreatitis — sudden inflammation of the pancreas that’s often reversible — has been reported in some clinical trials of Wegovy. 

It’s rare, though. In a Wegovy trial spanning two years, pancreatitis wasn’t reported at all.

Let your healthcare provider know if you have a history of pancreatitis before you start taking Wegovy. The drug hasn’t been studied on those with a history of the condition, so we don’t know if there’s a higher risk of it developing.

If you experience any symptoms of pancreatitis while taking Wegovy, stop taking the drug and let your provider know. Symptoms to look out for include vomiting and severe abdominal pain that may radiate into your back.

2. Acute Kidney Injury 

Despite the name, acute kidney injury has nothing to do with an injury. It happens when your kidneys suddenly stop working properly or fail altogether. Scary stuff. But, again, this is a rare long-term side effect of Wegovy.

In clinical trials on Wegovy, seven people reported acute kidney injury compared to four people taking a placebo.

Some of the common side effects of Wegovy for weight loss include vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. These can lead to dehydration, which can cause an increased risk of acute kidney injury.

You may also be more at risk for these adverse events if you have a history of renal impairment (when your kidneys don’t work very well).  

Let your healthcare provider know if you’ve ever experienced kidney problems or if you’re getting severe gastrointestinal side effects from Wegovy. They may want to monitor your kidney function when you start taking Wegovy or move you to a higher dose of the drug.

3. Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease 

You don’t often — if ever — think about your gallbladder. It’s an organ in your abdomen that stores and releases bile, which breaks down fats in your food. 

Wegovy has been associated with gallstones — when hardened pieces of bile develop — and acute gallbladder disease. 

Once again, it’s rare. Clinical trials found that gallstones were reported by 1.6 percent of people taking Wegovy compared to 0.7 percent of those taking a placebo. 

Gallbladder disease is even more rare. It was reported by 0.6 percent of folks taking Wegovy compared to 0.2 percent of those taking a placebo. 

Substantial or rapid weight loss can up your odds of gallstones and gallbladder disease. But the problems can also develop even when your body weight doesn’t drop quickly.

Reach out to your healthcare provider if you feel significant pain in your upper-right abdomen that lasts longer than 20 minutes, as this could be a sign of gallstones.

4. Increased Heart Rate 

Wegovy may increase your resting heart rate. Clinical trials found that people on Wegovy saw an average increase of one to four beats a minute compared to those who took a placebo.

If your heart rate spikes just reading that, we have comforting news. This increase in heart rate may not be associated with any adverse effects. Clinical trials didn’t find an increase in cardiovascular events in people taking semaglutide, the active ingredient in Wegovy.

In fact, Wegovy might actually be good for your heart health. In February 2024, it was approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular death in people with cardiovascular disease and overweight or obesity.

Let your medical provider know if you feel your heart racing while resting or notice any heart palpitations. They may want to check your heart rate every now and again and monitor for high blood pressure while on Wegovy just to be safe.

5. Diabetic Retinopathy Complications 

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition caused by diabetes. It can damage blood vessels in your eyes and cause vision loss.

In trials on semaglutide, diabetic retinopathy complications did crop up in some participants with type 2 diabetes.

In a trial of patients with type 2 diabetes and a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or more, diabetic retinopathy was reported by four percent of people taking Wegovy. This was compared to 2.7 percent of those taking a placebo. 

Semaglutide drugs — like Ozempic® and Rybelsus® — can help folks with type 2 diabetes improve their blood sugar levels. But a rapid improvement in blood sugar control has been associated with a temporary worsening of diabetic retinopathy.

It’s unclear what the effect of long-term improvements in blood sugar levels would be on diabetic retinopathy.

More research is needed — and it’s coming! One study is currently looking into the long-term effects of semaglutide on diabetic retinopathy in people with type 2 diabetes. It’s expected to finish in 2027.

Let your healthcare provider know if you’ve got a history of diabetic retinopathy or if you experience any vision changes while taking Wegovy. 

6. Mental Health Issues  

Suicidal ideation and behaviors have been reported in clinical trials on other weight loss treatments, so there may be a risk with Wegovy too. We can’t say for sure, though.

There might be a risk of other mental health issues in the long run. But again, more research is needed.

Clinical trials compared semaglutide to liraglutide, another diabetes and weight loss drug sold under the brand names Victoza® and Saxenda®. They found that six percent of semaglutide patients had psychiatric disorders while taking the drug for one to four years, compared to 15 percent of liraglutide patients and 11 percent of those taking a placebo.

The most common psychiatric disorders were: 

  • Anxiety 

  • Depression 

  • Insomnia

Before you take Wegovy, let your medical provider know if you’ve experienced any mental health issues in the past. And while taking this medication, reach out to a healthcare professional if you experience any changes in mood, worsening depression, or suicidal thoughts.

7. Thyroid Cancer 

Wegovy comes with a black box FDA warning stating that semaglutide causes thyroid C-cell tumors in rodents. But it’s unclear whether the drug can cause these tumors in humans.

For now, people with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) or multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN2) shouldn’t take Wegovy.

Look out for the symptoms of thyroid tumors, which include: 

  • A mass in your neck

  • Shortness of breath 

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Persistent hoarse voice

It may be a rare long-term effect that hasn’t been proven yet, but it’s always wise to keep an eye out for any health problems while taking medication.

Prescribed online

Weight loss treatment that puts you first

Yes, Wegovy is considered safe for long-term use. Like any drug, there are some potential long-term risks, but for many people, the benefits of losing weight with Wegovy outweigh those risks.

A 2022 review looked at the SUSTAIN, PIONEER, and STEP clinical trials on semaglutide. This includes studies on semaglutide in 2.4-milligram doses — the dose used in Wegovy — given to people with obesity. The review said that a “significant benefit of semaglutide is that it can be used for long-term management of weight.”

While longer-term research is needed, studies spanning two years show that Wegovy is safe.

More research is needed on that front. But some side effects may go away as your body gets used to the medication, and others may clear up when you stop taking the drug.

It’s different for everyone, though. Some people might only have side effects at first, while others taking Wegovy may experience symptoms that show up after months or years of use.

It’s unclear how long you can take Wegovy, but the drug is designed for long-term use. Depending on how well your body tolerates it, you might be able to take Wegovy until you reach your goal weight or beyond for long-term weight management. 

Your healthcare provider can let you know how long it’s safe for you personally to take Wegovy.

We’ve covered how long you can stay on Ozempic for weight loss in more detail.

If you decide Wegovy isn’t for you, you still have plenty of weight loss treatments to choose from.

There are other weight loss injections like: 

  • Ozempic (semaglutide)

  • Mounjaro® and Zepbound® (tirzepatide) 

  • Victoza and Saxenda (liraglutide)

Ozempic contains a lower dose of semaglutide than Wegovy, but the potential long-term effects are similar. Read our guide to Wegovy versus Ozempic to see how these Novo Nordisk medications compare.

Outside of GLP-1 drugs, you can also consider oral weight loss medications like: 

  • Rybelsus (semaglutide) 

  • Metformin 

  • Xenical® (orlistat)  

  • Topamax® (topiramate)

  • Contrave® (naltrexone-bupropion)

  • Qsymia® (phentermine-topiramate)

While medication is considered safe for most people, you can also look into drug-free weight loss methods that don’t come with the risk of any serious side effects.

These include:  

  • Eating nutritious foods. Go for fruits, vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and lean protein like chicken and tofu. 

  • Incorporating more movement into your day. All physical activity counts. That could include walking, standing, yoga, dancing, tennis, jogging — you get the idea.

  • Getting enough sleep. Aim for at least seven hours a night. Taking time to wind down before bed and making your bedroom as relaxing as possible can help.

  • Drinking more water. Stay hydrated, feel fuller, and promote the breakdown of fats for energy — drinking water is a win-win-win.

Weight loss is highly individual. The “best” treatment will look different for everyone and will likely include a combination of some of the above alternatives. 

Our holistic weight loss programs take this into account. You can access weight loss medication — if suitable for you — alongside behavioral change tools, realistic eating plans, and expert advice to help you reach your weight loss goals in a safe and effective way.

We know semaglutide long-term side effects sound scary, but rest assured, they’re pretty rare.

Here are the key things to remember:

  • There are potential long-term effects of Wegovy. They include pancreatitis, acute kidney injury, gallbladder problems, increased heart rate, diabetic retinopathy, mental health issues, and potentially thyroid cancer. Just to hammer it home, in each case, these complications are rare. 

  • Wegovy is recommended as a long-term weight loss drug. It’s designed to help people lose weight and keep weight off in the long run. Longer-term research is needed, but studies spanning two years show the drug is safe.

  • The benefits may outweigh the risks. Wegovy can help you lose significant amounts of weight. So if you have overweight or obesity, the drug can improve your health and quality of life in many ways, outweighing potential long-term risks.

A healthcare provider can let you know if Wegovy would be beneficial for you and talk you through any risks you’re concerned about. 

If these potential long-term effects have put you off, no sweat. There are other weight loss treatments to consider.

Take our free online weight loss assessment to find out which ones could work best for you.

7 Sources

  1. Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. (2022). Semaglutide (Wegovy): CADTH reimbursement review: Therapeutic area: Weight management.
  2. Garvey WT, et al. (2022). Two-year effects of semaglutide in adults with overweight or obesity: the STEP 5 trial.
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2024). A research study to look at how semaglutide compared to placebo affects diabetic eye disease in people with type 2 diabetes (FOCUS).
  4. Singh G, et al. Wegovy (semaglutide): a new weight loss drug for chronic weight management.
  5. Smits MM, et al. (2021). Safety of semaglutide.
  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2024). FDA approves first treatment to reduce risk of serious heart problems specifically in adults with obesity and overweight.
  7. Wegovy (semaglutide) injection, for subcutaneous use. (2023). https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2023/215256s007lbl.pdf
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