"My Body Violently Rejected It": Ozempic Patient on Harsh Side Effects
Patients report severe side effects tied to semaglutide injection—but some say it's worth the risk.
The idea of using Ozempic or Wegovy (brand names for semaglutide injection) may be enticing, since the drugs have been shown to assist with rapid weight loss and life-changing transformations. For a while, these medications seemed almost too good to be true, with many—including celebrities—touting them as a solution to years of struggling with extra pounds. But although some don't have any adverse effects, more and more patients are speaking out about the painful symptoms they've experienced, with one telling The Washington Post that her body "violently rejected" Ozempic. Read on to find out more about the drug's harsh side effects.
An Ozempic patient was in such severe pain she almost called 911.
While Wegovy is approved to treat obesity, Ozempic is just approved for the treatment of diabetes and prescribed off-label to help people lose weight. According to a report in WaPo, both medications can cause unpleasant side effects.
A 305-person study published in May by the Mayo Clinic found that half of patients taking semaglutide for at least a year experience side effects, with most reporting diarrhea and nausea. In an earlier Oct. 2022 study published in Nature, 82.2 percent of participants taking these drugs reported adverse events "of mild-to-moderate severity."
WaPo spoke with several patients about their experiences, including 40-year-old Courtney Blair, who told the outlet that she was taking Ozempic for weight loss, starting with the lowest dose and gradually taking more over the course of several months. However, debilitating stomach pain caused her to miss work and eventually required her to switch medications.
"My body violently rejected it," Blair said. "I was projectile vomiting and other gross things. It was so painful I thought I was going to have to call 911."
Her doctor prescribed a different drug for managing obesity (Saxenda), and while Blair said that it causes fewer side effects, she conceded that Ozempic was more helpful in terms of making "better food choices."
Other patients reported severe GI issues.
Another patient, 52-year-old Robin Demoy, lost over 60 pounds while taking Wegovy, but she told WaPo that she also experienced dizziness similar to motion sickness, weakness in her legs, nausea, vomiting, and a reduced desire to eat. Meanwhile, Tia Koch, a 40-year-old woman, had to be hospitalized due to her severe nausea and pain associated with taking Wegovy.
In addition, CNN recently spoke with several patients who have been diagnosed with a painful condition called stomach paralysis, which their doctors believe could be connected to these medications.
Stomach paralysis (formally known as gastroparesis) isn't listed as a potential side effect on the drugs' labels, but in a statement previously provided to Best Life, Ozempic and Wegovy maker Novo Nordisk noted that gastrointestinal (GI) events "are well-known side effects."
The company also said that it is "continuously monitoring the safety profile of our products and [collaborating] closely with authorities to ensure patient safety, including adequate information on gastrointestinal side effects in the label."
Side effects don't occur in every patient—and many say the pros outweigh the cons.
Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly (which produces another diabetes drug) were hit with a lawsuit earlier this month, with a patient alleging that she was hospitalized due to her side effects, and had even lost teeth from vomiting. According to WaPo, the patient's law firm has been retained by over 500 clients who had similar experiences with the drugs.
But while some report drastic side effects, Demoy told WaPo that hers weren't severe enough to make her stop taking the medication, noting that she's successfully lowered both her cholesterol and sodium levels while on Wegovy.
"Dealing with these side effects is new territory for everybody. Even the doctors," she said, later adding that she doesn't plan to stop. "I'm staying on this for the rest of my life. I'm doing this because it's right for myself."
Others experienced similar positive results, and Novo Nordisk just released date from a study showing that Wegovy can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by 20 percent in adults with obesity.
In terms of side effects, doctors are careful to say that patient experience varies wildly.
"Some people get very sick, and others have no side effects at all," Robert F. Kushner, MD, professor of medicine and medical education at Northwestern University, told WaPo. (The outlet noted that Kushner conducted studies of semaglutide paid for by Novo Nordisk.)
Side effects could have something to do with how much you're prescribed and what you eat.
Experts suggest that dose and diet could play a major role in the kinds of side effects that appear. According to Kushner, it's key not to overeat and "watch out for fatty foods and oils" for a few days after an injection.
Patients getting their prescriptions online also might not receive complete information on what to eat when taking Ozempic or Wegovy.
"When you ask them what they were told, they say, 'I was just told to eat better,' without any specifics," Terry Simpson, MD, a weight-loss surgeon in California, told WaPo.
Some experts also say that upping doses too quickly could cause side effects, and it's recommended that providers keep patients on the same dose or lower it if nausea occurs, WaPo reported.
In the statement to Best Life, Novo Nordisk stated, "We recommend patients take these medications for their approved indications and under the supervision of a healthcare professional."
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.