During the two months that Carey Yazeed took Ozempic, the drug worked as intended. Yazeed has type 2 diabetes and the weekly injection lowered her blood sugar levels. But it also brought side effects that she found unbearable, including vomiting, fatigue, headaches, and stomach cramps.
Five weeks after taking the medication, Yazeed said, she found herself unable to get up from the bathroom floor.
“I had thrown up so much that I didn’t have the energy to get up and was basically lying down,” she said. «She couldn’t even lift her head to throw up in the toilet. It was so bad.»
The severe effects faced by Yazeed are not common, but the experiences of people taking Ozempic and its sister drug, Wegovy, can vary widely, from substantial weight loss and minimal discomfort at one end of the spectrum to extreme effects. in the other one.
NBC News spoke to 10 people about their experiences taking these blockbuster drugs, which are forms of semaglutide. They are designed to mimic a hormone that sends a signal to the brain when a person is full and promotes the release of insulin, a hormone that prevents blood sugar from getting too high. In turn, medications can lower blood sugar levels and suppress appetite.
Its popularity has skyrocketed over the last year, partly due to the attention from social media and billionaires like Elon Musk promoting the weight loss effects of drugs.
Ozempic prescriptions tripled from 2021 to 2022, according to data from discount prescription drug company SingleCare, which has more than 5 million members. Last year, high demand and global supply constraints led to drug shortages. The FDA reported a wegovy shortage in March 2022, followed by a Ozempic Shortage in August.
Several people interviewed said the benefits they got from the drugs outweighed the side effects.
«It just feels lighter to move. My clothes fit so much better and more comfortable,» said Stacey Bollinger, account manager. in Maryland, who reported losing 52 pounds since starting Wegovy. «Something as simple as bending over to tie your shoe is so much easier.»
Some people said they felt fine on the medicines. But Yazeed and a couple of others described side effects that forced them to stop taking the drugs or wondered if they could stay on them long-term.
The obesity medicine experts who prescribe Ozempic and Wegovy said the drugs can transform the lives and health of patients. The weight-loss effects may allow patients to do activities they couldn’t do before, such as chasing after the grandkids or finding clothes that fit well at major stores. Semaglutide may also address health problems related to obesity and diabetes, such as an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
«By treating obesity, you are effectively treating potentially more than 200 other diseases related to obesity or weight,» said Dr. Ania Jastreboff, an associate professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. Jastreboff is a member of the scientific advisory board of Novo Nordisk, which makes Ozempic and Wegovy.
Dramatic Weight Loss Stories
The Food and Drug Administration approved Ozempic for people with type 2 diabetes in 2017, then Wegovy, the same drug, which increases the dose, in 2021 for weight loss in adults who are obese or overweight and are at least one-weight. related health condition, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. Ozempic is not approved for weight loss, but doctors sometimes prescribe it off-label for that purpose.
Most people who took Ozempic or Wegovy said it curbed hunger and reduced cravings for unhealthy foods. Bollinger and Randi Lee Harper, a software developer in the Seattle area, reported losing more than 50 pounds each.
harper took Ozempic was off-label for weight loss from May through November (she went on hiatus while moving to Washington state, but plans to start again). He said he still enjoyed his favorite foods, like truffle mac and cheese and Sour Patch Kids candy, but his portions were smaller.
«You don’t realize how much your life is focused on food when you’re overweight until you’re on a diet that allows you to take your mind off food, like Ozempic,» Harper said.
For the most part, he added, he reacted well to the medication, although he would sometimes burp if he ate too much, a fairly common side effect.
As for Bollinger, she said that in addition to her weight loss, her average blood sugar levels have dropped to a point where she is no longer prediabetic.
A study of more than 1,000 people with type 2 diabetes found that semaglutide was more effective than insulin in lowering blood sugar. The participants had not seen results with other anti-diabetic medications, which they continued to take during the trial. In other study Of nearly 2,000 overweight or obese adults without diabetes, people who took semaglutide lost an average of 34 pounds in less than 16 weeks, compared with 6 pounds among those who took a placebo.
Dr. C. Nicole Swiner, a family physician in Durham, North Carolina, said she started taking Wegovy in 2021 after seeing how much it helped her patients. She has lost 30 pounds since then, she said.
«Because I’m not starving, I can stop and make a smarter decision [rather] that, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m hungry. Let me have whatever’s in the office kitchen,’ which is usually junk,» Swiner said.
At Wegovy, she added, she eats less overall and has swapped sugary treats like cookies or muffins for healthier alternatives like yogurt or fruit.
For Yazeed, weight loss was not the reason he took Ozempic, nor was it a goal. But with the drug, she said, she had to force herself to eat, and often she couldn’t stomach anything more than a protein shake in the morning. On a good day, she can tolerate a bit of chicken broth, too.
She lost 10 pounds in two months, going from a size 12 to a size 8 or 10.
Patients who stop taking the drugs often regain weight
Like many medications, the effects of semaglutide wear off when patients stop taking it, which is why some people regain weight. Experts said they consider Ozempic and Wegovy to be lifelong medications.
«Data from our clinical trials for Wegovy showed that, unsurprisingly, patients experience weight regain once they stop taking the drug,» Novo Nordisk told NBC News in a statement.
«This supports the belief that obesity is a chronic disease that requires long-term management, just like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, so most patients are on long-term therapy,» he added. the company.
Ebony Wiggins, who has type 2 diabetes, said she has regained about 15 pounds of the 25 she lost last year while taking Ozempic.
Artemis Bayandor, who lives in Naperville, Ill., said he weighs more now than he did when he took Wegovy: Within a month of stopping the drug, he regained the 15 pounds he had lost on the drug, he said, plus 10 more. the next six months.
«For the first week I was fine, and for the second week I had all the cravings again, but worse,» Bayandor said.
Side effects cause some people to stop taking the drugs
Courtney Hamilton spent no more than a month on Ozempic, which her doctor prescribed off the record because Hamilton has type 1, not type 2, diabetes.
Her nausea got so bad that she could barely eat, Hamilton said, and the foods she could tolerate weren’t particularly healthy.
«Ironically, it made me stick to starchy, carb-heavy foods like potatoes because they’re so bland. I ate a lot of that and a lot of plain toast,» she said.
People usually start with a low dose of Ozempic or Wegovy and then increase to reduce side effects. Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that some serious effects can result from increasing the dose too quickly.
«If the patient says, ‘Oh my God, I’m sick. I can’t even go to work, I’m throwing up all day,’ the dose probably isn’t right for them,» Stanford said.
In clinical trials, 73% of adults taking the highest dose of Wegovy reported gastrointestinal problems. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and stomach pain are the most common. Some people have reported more serious, though rare, side effects such as pancreatitis and kidney failure.
Novo Nordisk said that patients experiencing nausea as a side effect should contact their healthcare provider for guidance on ways to manage it.
Jastreboff said she encourages her patients to eat smaller, more frequent meals, not eat past the point of fullness, and monitor which foods exacerbate their symptoms. Most of the side effects occur when people increase the dose and then go away once they reach the maintenance phase, he added.
Megan Cornelius, who has been taking Ozempic off-label for type 1 diabetes for several years, said she had nausea and fatigue at first, but those effects faded over time.
«As long as I can continue to take it, I probably will,» Cornelius said.
For Eric Joiner Jr., a former type 2 diabetic, Ozempic has done nothing beyond its intended effect: improving his kidney function, an off-label application of the drug. Joiner developed chronic kidney disease as a result of his diabetes.
He hasn’t experienced any side effects or weight loss with Ozempic, he said, but he acknowledges that’s not true for everyone.
«At the end of the day, it’s a very personal thing,» he said. «Your biology is different from mine.»