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Wegovy vs. Weight Loss Surgery

April 25, 2023 | Bilof's Corner

Wegovy vs. Weight Loss Surgery

By Dr. Michael Bilof

Unless you live under a large rock or never go on social media, you have no doubt heard about ‘miracle’ weight loss drugs. They are indeed quite effective. The two drugs getting most of the attention are semaglutide (Wegovy) and tirzepatide (Mounjaro). I will not get into the technical weeds of how they work, other than to say that they both appear to have a rather pronounced effect on appetite. That is, they decrease the patient’s appetite—eat less, lose weight!

What You Need To Know About Weight Loss Drugs

If you’re reading this you probably don’t really care how it works; you just want to know does it work and is it safe? Like any drug, it does not work 100% of the time. Having said that, it is pretty effective. The trial that got the most attention (there were several) was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, if you are looking for a cure for your insomnia the link is here. Let me give you the Cliff Notes: almost one third (32%) of the patients who got treated with semaglutide lost 20% of their weight! The equivalent of a 250lb. person losing 50 lbs, which is not as good as weight loss surgery but still impressive. The only caveat (hate to be Debbie Downer) is that it appears after stopping the medicine, weight regain is a real problem. Approximately half the weight lost while on the medication is regained one year after stopping.

Basically, it would seem you have to be committed to taking this medication for the long term in order to keep the weight off. Which brings us to the next question: Are these drugs safe? Obviously, the decision to start taking a medication is something you do after consulting with a medical provider who has reviewed your personal medical history. In terms of safety, however, the main side effects in the studies were GI symptoms, nausea/vomiting and diarrhea, most of which resolved with time. There was a study that suggested an association with thyroid cancer, so if you have a personal history or strong family history of thyroid cancer it may be best to avoid these medications.

Are Weight Loss Medications Right For You?

If you are considering these weight loss drugs there are several things to be aware of:

1) many insurance policies don’t cover them.
2) They require an injection.
3) As I mentioned earlier there appears to be ‘rebound weight regain’ after stopping for a significant number of patients.

If you are lucky enough to have a policy that covers it, don’t mind giving yourself an injection, and only need to lose 50 or 60 lbs (not 100 or 150 lbs), it might be worth a shot (with the go-ahead from your medical provider, of course.)

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