A medical student at the University of British Columbia was motivated to learn more about adverse drug effects following an emergency room case where a man was vomiting up to 20 times per day.
“Doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing it,” he recalls in an interview with CNN, “until they noticed he was taking Ozempic.”
The popular weight loss drug is under scrutiny following research out of Vancouver that reveals significant side effects.
UBC research on semaglutide—sold under brand names such as Ozempic and Rybelsus—found that 1% of people taking the drug were diagnosed with non-mild side effects such as stomach paralysis and bowel-related emergencies.
Given that tens of millions of people now take these drugs, even 1% amounts of hundreds of thousands of new cases, stressing individuals and healthcare systems across Canada.
“When you have millions of people using these drugs, you know, a 1% risk still translates to many people who may experience these events,” epidemiologist and UBC study author Dr. Mahyar Etminan, informed CNN.
Serious side effects listed for drugs such as Ozempic warn of possible inflammation, gallbladder and kidney problems, blocked intestines, and even suicidal thoughts.
The UBC researchers also concluded that the “risk-benefit calculus” of those using Ozempic-style drugs as anti-obesity medication is different than those using the drugs to combat diabetes specifically.
“Given the wide use of these drugs, these adverse events, although rare, must be considered by patients who are contemplating using the drugs for weight loss,” the UBC study reads.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shines a light on data typically kept anecdotal by doctors behind closed doors.
However, the makers of Ozempic say the study is imperfect.
“With respect to the study, as the authors acknowledge, the study has limitations, including potential confounding by indication and by other factors,” a statement from Novo Nordisk, manufacturer of both Ozempic and Saxenda, to CNN reads. “We recommend patients take these medications for their approved indications and under the supervision of a healthcare professional.”