Ozempic For Weight Loss: How It Works, Side Effects & More

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

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

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 11/01/2023

Updated 04/23/2024

O-o-o-Ozempic®. Whether or not that puts the jingle in your head, you can take one quick scroll through TikTok and probably find quite a few videos on Ozempic for weight loss. But what’s the buzz all about? 

Ozempic is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help those with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. It’s also prescribed off-label to help those who are overweight or have obesity lose weight.

The drug can be effective for weight loss, but there are safety concerns and side effects you need to know about. 

Let’s dive right in. Below, we cover how Ozempic works, whether the drug is safe, common side effects and alternatives to consider.

Ozempic is a once-a-week injection that’s FDA-approved for people with type 2 diabetes

When used alongside healthy eating and increased physical movement, Ozempic can help lower blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes. It can also reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death in patients with type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

That’s all great, but where does weight loss come into play? 

Weight loss is one side effect of Ozempic when it’s used for type 2 diabetes. This is why the drug is often prescribed off-label (when a medication is prescribed for something it isn’t approved for) to help people with obesity lose weight. 

Ozempic is one brand name for a drug called semaglutide. You can also get semaglutide in tablet form — the brand name for that is Rybelsus®, and it’s also approved for type 2 diabetes.

A higher-dose injection of semaglutide is available under the brand name Wegovy®, which is FDA-approved for weight loss.

Ozempic and Wegovy have the same active ingredient, and they’re both once-a-week injections. However, they’re FDA-approved for different uses and come in different doses. 

  • Ozempic is FDA-approved for those with type 2 diabetes in doses up to 2 milligrams (mg) of semaglutide. 

  • Wegovy is FDA-approved for those who are overweight or have obesity. Doses are usually up to 2.4mg of semaglutide.

You can learn more in our guide to Ozempic vs Wegovy.

Since Ozempic is prescribed off-label for weight loss, there are no set guidelines for who qualifies for the drug. However, healthcare providers may use the same prescribing guidelines as Wegovy.

Wegovy is prescribed to those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more or those with a BMI of 27 or more with at least one weight-related health condition, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.  

Ozempic is a glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist, which means it mimics the GLP-1 hormone in your body.

When you eat, your digestive tract releases GLP-1. One of this hormone’s jobs is to prompt your body to make more insulin, reducing blood sugar levels. 

High levels of GLP-1 can also reduce your appetite and trigger feelings of fullness. Since Ozempic mimics this hormone, it can have the same effect.

Semaglutide is linked to: 

  • Less hunger

  • Fewer food cravings

  • Better control of eating 

  • Less preference for high-fat foods

This can make it easier to stick to a healthy eating plan and achieve weight loss goals. 

Research shows Ozempic can be effective for weight loss. 

A 2021 study looked at almost 2,000 adults without diabetes who took either a weekly semaglutide injection or a placebo for 68 weeks. They also made lifestyle changes, like eating more nutritious foods and incorporating more movement into their days.

After 68 weeks: 

  • The group taking semaglutide lost an average of almost 15 percent of their body weight.

  • The group taking the placebo lost an average of 2.4 percent of their body weight.

One thing to note about this study is that participants received a 2.4mg dose of semaglutide. Ozempic is usually prescribed at a lower dose, starting at 0.25mg and increasing to up to 2mg a week for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Another thing to be aware of? Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic and Wegovy, funded the study. That means we should probably view these particular results with a healthy skepticism, but other research has found similar results. 

A 2022 study compared a weekly semaglutide injection with a daily liraglutide injection — another GLP-1 receptor agonist. Besides taking the injections, participants changed their eating habits and the amount of daily movement they did.

Both groups lost weight, but participants taking semaglutide lost more weight than those taking liraglutide.

Ozempic is still a relatively new drug, so we can’t say for sure whether it’s safe. Most clinical trials on Ozempic were done with people who have type 2 diabetes, so it’s unclear whether it’s safe for people who don’t have the condition and are looking to lose weight.

Wegovy is FDA-approved for weight loss, but is a relatively new drug too. While FDA approval means they’re relatively confident about its safety, these newer drugs don’t have decades of research to back them up, unlike other weight loss drugs such as metformin.

Here’s a little more on the potential side effects and risks of Ozempic.

Common Side Effects of Ozempic

Common Ozempic side effects include: 

  • Nausea 

  • Vomiting 

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach pain 

  • Constipation 

These side effects are reported in more than five percent of people taking Ozempic. 

That’s not all, though. Other potential side effects of Ozempic include: 

  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

  • Redness or discomfort at the injection site

  • Increased amylase and lipase (enzymes that break down carbs and fats)

  • Gallstones 

  • Increased heart rate 

  • Fatigue 

  • Changes in taste (foods could taste bad to you)

  • Dizziness 

Ozempic Severe Side Effects 

As with any medication, Ozempic also comes with the risk of rarer but more serious side effects. 

Those include: 

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) 

  • Diabetic retinopathy complications

  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) when used with an insulin secretagogue or insulin 

  • Acute kidney injury 

  • Hypersensitivity reactions 

There’s also a black box warning stating that semaglutide can cause thyroid C-cell tumors in rodents. It’s unclear whether it can cause tumors and thyroid cancer in humans. 

Ozempic isn’t safe for people with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma or those with multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2.

And it’s unclear whether Ozempic is safe for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Let your healthcare provider know if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to be soon.

Prescribed online

Weight loss treatment that puts you first

Ozempic Drug Interactions 

You shouldn’t take Ozempic if you’re taking insulin or an insulin secretagogue drug, like sulfonylurea. This can raise your odds of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). 

You also want to watch out for changes in the effects of any oral medications you’re taking — that’s right, any oral medications.

Ozempic causes a delay in gastric emptying, which means food is kept in your stomach for longer. This delay may impact how your body absorbs oral medications. 

Tell your healthcare provider about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you take (or may start taking) if you’re considering adding Ozempic to the mix. 

Is Long-Term Use of Ozempic for Weight Loss Safe?

More research is needed into the safety of long-term Ozempic use for weight loss. 

What we know so far is that Ozempic weight loss may not last forever. Once you stop taking the drug, there’s a chance you’ll regain some (or all) of the weight you lost. 

Research from 2022 looked at what happened when people stopped taking semaglutide after 68 weeks of treatment. One year later, study participants had regained an average of two-thirds of the weight they’d lost. 

Since it's a relatively new drug, long-term trials on Ozempic still need to be done. So, it’s unclear whether taking the medication long-term is a safe way to keep the weight off.

To learn more, check out our guide to how long you can take Ozempic for weight loss. 

The Benefits May Outweigh the Risks

Ozempic comes with health risks, but so does obesity. 

Almost 42 percent of adults over 20 have obesity, and 73.6 percent are either overweight or have obesity. 

Obesity can lead to a whole host of medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer — to name just a few. 

So, while Ozempic isn’t approved for weight loss, it can benefit those struggling to manage their weight. 

It isn’t the only option, though. Hers offers access to clinically proven medications, including metformin, as part of a holistic weight loss program, with no injections required. 

Ozempic can cost $900 to $1,000 a month without insurance. It isn’t usually covered by insurance for weight loss, so it can be an expensive drug, especially if you take it for a long time. 

More affordable weight loss options exist, including our comprehensive weight loss program that starts at $79 per month.

If you want to lose weight, Ozempic isn’t your only option. 

There are other weight loss injections, including: 

  • Wegovy (semaglutide)

  • Mounjaro® and Zepbound® (tirzepatide) 

  • Victoza® and Saxenda® (liraglutide)

And oral weight loss medications, including: 

  • Rybelsus (semaglutide) 

  • Metformin 

  • Contrave® (naltrexone-bupropion)

  • Topamax® (topiramate)

  • Xenical® (orlistat)  

  • Qsymia® (phentermine-topiramate)

We also offer holistic weight loss programs, combining weight loss medication (if appropriate) with realistic eating plans, behavioral change tools and expert guidance.

A healthcare provider can walk you through the pros and cons of weight loss treatments and help you decide which is right for you. 

To get started, check out our guide to Ozempic vs metformin here.

Ozempic is a diabetes drug, but it can be prescribed off-label for weight loss. There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether to take Ozempic for weight loss.

Here are the key facts:

  • Ozempic can help you lose weight. Semaglutide can help you feel less hungry and more full. When combined with a nutritious meal plan and more daily movement, it can help with weight management. 

  • Ozempic comes with potential side effects. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and more serious side effects include low blood sugar and gallstones. 

  • More research needs to be done into safety. Ozempic is a relatively new drug, so we don’t have long-term studies or research on people without type 2 diabetes who used it to lose weight. 

The final verdict? Ozempic may help you lose weight, but speak to a healthcare provider to find out if it’s suitable for you or whether other weight loss methods might be a better fit.

We get that this might just be the beginning of your exploration into weight loss treatments. If you’re feeling “on the fence” about Ozempic, there are plenty of other safe and effective treatments for weight loss for you to explore.

12 Sources

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  7. Blundell, J., Finlayson, G., Axelsen, M., Flint, A., Gibbons, C., Kvist, T., & Hjerpsted, J. B. (2017). Effects of once-weekly semaglutide on appetite, energy intake, control of eating, food preference and body weight in subjects with obesity. Diabetes, obesity & metabolism, 19(9), 1242–1251. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573908/
  8. Wilding, J.P.H. et al. (2021). Once-Weekly Semaglutide in Adults with Overweight or Obesity. The New England Journal of Medicine, 384(11), 989-1002. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2032183
  9. Rubino, D. M., Greenway, F. L., Khalid, U., O'Neil, P. M., Rosenstock, J., Sørrig, R., Wadden, T. A., Wizert, A., Garvey, W. T., & STEP 8 Investigators (2022). Effect of Weekly Subcutaneous Semaglutide vs Daily Liraglutide on Body Weight in Adults With Overweight or Obesity Without Diabetes: The STEP 8 Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA, 327(2), 138–150. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8753508/
  10. Obesity and Overweight. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
  11. Adult Obesity Facts. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html Wilding, J. P. H. et al. (2022). Weight regain and cardiometabolic effects after withdrawal of semaglutide: The STEP 1 trial extension. Diabetes, obesity & metabolism, 24(8), 1553–1564. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9542252/
  12. Ozempic Prices, Coupons & Savings Tips. (n.d.). https://www.goodrx.com/ozempic
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