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What Your Heart Is Telling You About Weight Loss Drugs

Semaglutide, the active ingredient in the diabetes and weight loss medications Ozempic and Wegovy was in the spotlight last year for its role in celebrity diet crazes. But this drug seems to have something other Hollywood fads don’t: data backing it up.

In a large international study, semaglutide was found to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease by 20%, even in people who do not have diabetes. But the cost and side effects of the drug mean it is not a surefire solution.

“While medications can aid in the management of diabetes and obesity, it takes a holistic approach to prevent disease and maintain good health,” said Subbarao Myla, M.D., medical director of the Cardiac Cath Labs at the Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute at Hoag.

“These drugs should be considered tools in a larger toolbox that include lifestyle changes such as exercise, smoking cessation and proper diet. Lifestyle intervention is key for sustained weight loss and heart health. With semaglutide alone, patients who reduce or stop taking these weight loss drugs often experience rebound weight gain,” he said.

Dr. Myla contends that the tools in question are quite powerful. The fact that the most recent study found the drug improves cardiovascular health cannot be attributed to weight loss alone, Dr. Myla said.

“The paper speculates that the drug’s effect on blood pressure may have had a positive effect on heart health,” he said.

But these drugs have other side effects to consider, such as stomach issues, low blood sugar, pancreatitis and, in rare cases, thyroid cancer. Dr. Myla advises keeping the following in mind when it comes to weight loss drugs and your heart:

Know your risks. Your doctor will discuss your risk of heart disease and of complications from potential side effects before prescribing this medication. Be sure you understand all the risks and have a realistic expectation about the possible benefits.

Understand the side effects. In addition to gastrointestinal issues, another common side effect is “Ozempic face,” or a look of premature aging in people taking the medication. Fat loss anywhere in the body can lead to sagging skin. When that fat loss occurs in the face, the results look like wrinkles.

Talk to your doctor. Partnering with your doctor will help you determine the risk versus benefit of this drug for your own wellness journey. Family history, your own heart health history and other health issues are important to factor in when making any significant change.

What do you need to know about weight loss drugs and heart health? Make an appointment today to talk to your doctor at