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What is Prescription Weight Loss?

Published by Dr. Brandon Richland, MD

Weight loss can be a complex and challenging journey for many. Prescription weight loss medications offer a potential solution for individuals who have struggled to lose weight through diet and exercise alone.

These medications are specifically designed to target different aspects of the weight loss process, such as reducing appetite or increasing feelings of fullness. They are generally recommended for individuals with a body mass index (BMI) over a certain threshold or for those who have weight-related health issues.

However, it’s vital to understand that prescription weight loss drugs are not a one-size-fits-all remedy. These medications are FDA-approved and should be used in conjunction with lifestyle changes, such as a balanced diet and regular physical activity.

A healthcare provider can help patients navigate the options, understanding both the potential benefits and side effects. Safety is also paramount, as each medication may interact differently with other prescriptions or conditions.

Key Takeaways of What is Prescription Weight Loss?

  • Prescription weight loss medications are intended to assist those who have not achieved weight loss through diet and exercise alone.
  • FDA-approved weight loss drugs must be used with lifestyle modifications and under medical supervision.
  • It’s essential to discuss the benefits, side effects of these medications with a healthcare provider.

Understanding Prescription Weight Loss

Prescription weight loss medications are becoming a viable option for individuals with obesity, particularly when lifestyle modifications have not yielded significant results. These medications are typically prescribed based on Body Mass Index (BMI) and are used alongside dietary changes and exercise.

BMI is a common tool used to categorize individuals as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated using a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. A BMI over 30 is generally considered obese, and this metric is often one of the criteria that healthcare providers use to determine if a patient might benefit from prescription weight loss medications.

Types of Prescription Weight Loss Drugs

When considering prescription weight loss drugs, it’s important to be aware of the options available and understand how each medication works. These drugs are typically used when diet and exercise alone have not been successful, and a healthcare provider has determined they are necessary for a patient’s weight loss journey.

Liraglutide (Saxenda)

Liraglutide, marketed under the name Saxenda, is an injectable medication that was originally developed to treat diabetes but has been approved for weight loss. It mimics an intestinal hormone that tells the brain the stomach is full. Saxenda is recommended for those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or 27 or higher with at least one weight-related condition such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

Semaglutide (Wegovy)

Another medication in the same class as liraglutide is Semaglutide, known by the brand name Wegovy. Similar to Saxenda, it also imitates a hormone that regulates appetite and calorie intake. However, semaglutide has a higher efficacy at a molecular level, offering a more potent solution for weight loss.

Healthcare providers may prescribe Wegovy for chronic weight management in adults with a BMI of 30 or more, or 27 or more with at least one weight-related ailment.

Semaglutide (Ozempic)

In the same pharmacological class as Wegovy, Semaglutide is also available under the brand name Ozempic, targeting a similar mechanism of action but primarily intended for the management of type 2 diabetes. Like its counterpart for weight management, Ozempic works by mimicking the effects of an appetite-regulating hormone, thereby not only aiding in blood sugar control but also potentially contributing to weight loss.

Prescribed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, Ozempic is recommended for adults as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes diet and exercise. Its efficacy in lowering blood sugar levels, alongside its benefits in weight management, makes it a dual-purpose medication for patients with diabetes who may also be battling obesity.

Although not FDA approved specifically for weight loss, Ozempic has been making news headlines in recent years for many celebrities and other individuals having success with Ozempic for weight loss.

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Common Side Effects

When it comes to prescription weight loss medications, patients may experience a range of side effects that can affect their well-being. Understanding these side effects is crucial for managing expectations and pursuing a safe and effective weight loss journey.

Digestive Issues

Many individuals on prescription weight loss drugs report digestive issues such as nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. These symptoms are often mild and may decrease over time. For instance, medications like liraglutide have been linked to digestive side effects that may initially be bothersome to patients.

It is important for patients to communicate with their healthcare provider if they experience severe symptoms, such as prolonged nausea or vomiting.

Special Considerations for Use

When considering prescription weight loss medications, it is vital to take into account specific population groups and existing medical conditions. Certain medications may not be suitable or require dosage adjustments for children and adolescents, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or for individuals with pre-existing medical issues.

Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents have a developing physiology that could be sensitive to the effects of weight-loss medications. For this group, it’s crucial to balance the benefits against the potential risks of treatment. Weight loss drugs are typically reserved for those with significant health risks due to obesity and must be used under a healthcare provider’s strict supervision.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Weight loss medication is generally not recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Instead, healthcare providers usually recommend diet and exercise modifications under professional guidance to manage weight during these times.

Existing Medical Conditions

Individuals with existing medical conditions such as diabetes, depression, cancer, kidney problems, gallbladder problems, or risk of liver injury need to proceed with caution when considering prescription weight loss treatments. Certain medications may worsen comorbidities or interact with drugs already being used to treat these conditions.

For instance, those with high blood pressure may find their medication regime needs adjusting when on weight loss medication. It’s imperative to consult a healthcare provider to assess the risks and adjust treatments as necessary.

Managing Expectations

In the journey of weight loss through prescription medications, patients need to understand the difference in impact between short-term and long-term use, as well as set realistic goals for their weight reduction efforts.

Short-Term Use: Medications for weight loss are often introduced as a jump-start to one’s weight reduction plan. They’re meant to be used for a few weeks to months and can help individuals overcome initial hurdles, such as managing initial weight loss. However, these medications are not designed for indefinite use.

Long-Term Use: For sustainable weight management, long-term strategies are key. This might include a transition to weight management medications, which are formulated to be safer for extended use. These medications support ongoing weight loss efforts and help maintain the weight one has already lost, aiming to prevent weight gain over a prolonged period.

Realistic Weight Loss Goals

Setting realistic weight loss goals is crucial for both patient morale and program success. Expectations should be aligned with what is feasible:

  • Expected Reduction: Patients should understand that a weight reduction of 5-10% of initial body weight over a 6-month period is a typical and realistic goal when using weight loss medications.
  • Health Benefits: Even modest weight loss, like 5% of one’s starting weight, can provide significant health improvements, such as better control of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Remember, prescription weight loss medications are most effective when used in conjunction with lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise.

Lifestyle Considerations

Dietary Changes

When considering dietary changes, individuals should aim to create a calorie deficit, which is essential for weight loss. A structured healthy diet often includes:

  • Increased intake of vegetables and fruits: Rich in nutrients while low in calories.
  • Increasing whole grains which are more satiating and provide sustained energy.

It’s important that any dietary regimen is balanced and maintains the necessary nutrients the body needs to function properly. Specific changes can depend on individual health needs, as guided by a healthcare professional.

Exercise and Physical Activity

For exercise and physical activity, consistent and regular patterns are crucial. They should integrate:

  • Moderate-intensity aerobic exercises: Aim for at least 150 minutes a week.
  • Strength training routines: Engage in muscle-strengthening activities twice a week.

Increased physical activity doesn’t have to be structured exercise – it can include walking more or choosing stairs over elevators. It’s valuable for enhancing the effects of prescription weight loss drugs and improving cardiovascular health.

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Image Credit: Milkos / 123RF.com (Licensed).

Insurance and Cost

Prescription weight loss medication pricing can vary widely, with some drugs costing over $1,000 a month without coverage. Understanding insurance nuances and alternative saving options is vital for patients seeking these treatments.

Navigating Insurance Coverage

Many patients find that their health insurance does not uniformly cover weight loss medications, such as Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound, which can often cost more than $1,000 a month. In some cases, insurance plans only cover these prescriptions if certain medical criteria are met. Patients are advised to thoroughly review their insurance policy details and consult with their provider to understand the extent of their coverage.

Affording Medication Without Insurance

For individuals without insurance or whose plans do not cover weight loss drugs, there are strategies to reduce costs. Discounts through manufacturer programs can bring monthly expenses down to between $0 and $321.

Furthermore, comparing prices at different pharmacies or using medication discount cards can provide additional savings on prescriptions. Patients should consult healthcare professionals to explore these options and ensure they can manage their medication costs effectively.

Obtaining a Prescription

When seeking to manage weight through pharmaceutical intervention, one needs to go through a series of steps to obtain a prescription for weight loss medication. These steps ensure both the efficacy and safety of the prescription process.

Consulting with a Healthcare Provider

An individual interested in prescription weight loss pills should initially consult with a healthcare provider. During this consultation, the provider will evaluate the patient’s medical history, discuss any current prescription medications, and assess overall health to determine the suitability of prescription medicine for weight loss.

It is essential for the patient to provide honest information regarding their health and any medications they are taking to ensure the safe prescribing of weight loss medication.

Prescription Process

After the consultation, if the healthcare provider deems prescription weight loss medication appropriate, they will provide prescribing information, including the medication type, dosage, and how to use it effectively. It is vital for patients to follow the prescribing information closely and to report any adverse reactions to their healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Considered The Most Effective Prescription Medication for Losing Weight?

The effectiveness of prescription weight loss medications can vary among individuals, but GLP-1 medications, which help regulate appetite and food intake, are often considered clinically appropriate and effective.

2. How Does One Become Eligible for Weight Loss Prescriptions?

Eligibility for weight loss prescriptions typically requires an individual to have a BMI over a certain threshold and serious health problems due to their weight, along with a history of unsuccessful weight management through diet and exercise alone.

3. Can You Tell Me What New Medications Have Been Approved for Weight Loss?

New medications for weight loss are periodically approved as research advances. One should consult with a healthcare provider for the most recently approved medications and their suitability for one’s health conditions.

4. What Are Common Prescription Options for Weight Loss in Women?

Common prescription options for weight loss in women include medications like orlistat, phentermine, and the newer GLP-1 receptor agonists, which are selected based on individual health profiles and weight loss goals.

5. Are There Any Injectable Medications That Aid in Weight Reduction?

Yes, there are injectable medications for weight reduction, such as those in the GLP-1 receptor agonist class, which can be effective adjuncts to lifestyle changes for weight management.

6. What Do Healthcare Professionals Commonly Prescribe to Help With Weight Loss?

Healthcare professionals commonly prescribe medications such as orlistat, phentermine-topiramate, naltrexone-bupropion, and GLP-1 receptor agonists, among others, as part of a comprehensive weight management plan that includes dietary changes, exercise, and behavioral modifications.

Conclusion and Summary of What is Prescription Weight Loss?

The FDA approves several prescription drugs to treat obesity. These weight loss medications can be effective for some people as part of an overall treatment plan to manage obesity and maintain weight loss when combined with a reduced calorie diet and healthy eating plan.

However, weight loss medicines also have some side effects and sometimes serious risks and are not for everyone. The FDA recently completed a safety review of these drugs after reports of severe liver injury.

So while weight loss medicines can help some treat overweight and obesity, they may not be right for everyone. Patients should closely discuss the risks and benefits with their health care provider, before starting any treatment especially if they have a personal or family history of serious health problems.

Please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Before making any changes to your treatments, please consult with your healthcare provider to discuss the appropriateness and safety of such changes.

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About the Author

Dr. Brandon Richland, MD is a respected Board Certified Licensed Plastic Surgeon in Orange County / Southern California specializing in cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries.

Driven by his passion for medicine, Dr. Richland obtained his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree from the prestigious program at Saint Louis University (SLU) School of Medicine in 2013. His exceptional skills were recognized when he received the McGraw Hill / Lange Medical Student Academic Achievement Award, and graduated top of his class with Honors. For his undergraduate degree, he attended University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and graduated with Honors in 2009.

To further enhance his surgical expertise, Dr. Richland completed his Residency in Plastic Surgery at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) from 2013 to 2019 earning the Academic Achievement Award twice during this period. A total of 14 years in dedicated schooling and medical residency.

Dr. Richland is actively involved with healthcare and medical societies, as a Diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, and the California Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Contact Dr. Richland today by visiting RichlandMD.com, scheduling a cosmetic consultation, or by calling 714-241-0646 or 949-945-0025 directly.