Stella Violla had a number of reasons for wanting to get on to a weight-loss drug. For one thing, she wanted to get pregnant (she was overweight) and for another, she needed something to control her diabetes at the moment. This would also not be her first tryst with weight-loss injections. Previously, she had taken one that helped her shed 20kg, the Brazilian expat recalls. “And so my doctor said, let’s try Ozempic.”

Ozempic, the drug that treats diabetes was first approved in 2017 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and gained a steady stream of users, from Elon Musk (who was on Ozempic’s counterpart Wegovy) to Andy Cohen. Since then, it has gained some notoriety as stories surfaced of people who were dealing with complicated side-effects from the medicine.

For Violla, however, the injections’ effect was mild in the beginning. “So I started with 0.25mg and then to 0.5mg and then I went on to 1mg, which is when I really started feeling the effects. Sometimes, I would be able to eat just one meal in a day,” she says. Stella has lost 30kg between September 2022 and January 24 this year.

It may sound like a miracle, but the weight-loss drug is not advised for everyone. Dr Darvin Vamadevandas, specialist endocrinologist and diabetologist with Prime Medical Centre, Burjuman Branch, explains that according to the US Food And Drug Administration (FDA) weight-loss medications are considered only when one meets one or more of these conditions. “One must have a BMI equal or greater than 27 with one or more obesity-related conditions like hypertension and diabetes mellitus, and an individual has not lost at least 5 per cent of his or her total body weight in three to six month of lifestyle modifications,” says Dr Vamadevandas.

These drugs work by suppressing the appetite, he adds. “The glucagon like peptide 1 receptor agonist (diabetes medications like Ozempic) work by suppressing one’s appetite and tempering food intake. It also slows gastric emptying and affects energy intake. In clinical practice, we have seen gastrointestinal side-effects like nausea and vomiting, though minimal. Rarely, fatigue, dizziness, flatulence, and pancreatitis have been reported. Most of these symptoms are dose-dependent, and steady escalation of doses are not usually associated with these symptoms,” he explains.

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, though. Filipino expat Jericho Dizon’s side-effects came in the form of headaches. “I decided to use Ozempic six months ago after seeing a flood of content from people using its counterpart brand in the US, Wegovy,” he explains.

“The initial reaction was very obvious: you would lose your appetite and just not having any interest in eating. I started with a small dose and increased it gradually, but the higher I went, the stronger the reaction was. The only side-effects I've experienced are some bloating and occasional headaches,” he says. He took a break from the drug for a month, and says the impact of that sudden stop was he began to eat a lot again. “I wish I knew the effects of stopping it because I feel that when you stop using it, you just eat a lot and quickly regain what you've lost. Maybe it's worth knowing a better way to gradually get off Ozempic,” he says.

Perhaps Violla has found a better way to get off the medicines. “I’m slowly weaning off it because I know the fallout of suddenly stopping it. My sister took the same medicine and while it helped her shed the kilos, when she stopped taking the medicine, the weight came back.”

“The success of anti-obesity medications depends on the compliance, timely follow-up to adjust the dose based on clinical response and the ability to maintain the lost weight with lifestyle changes once he or she is off the anti-obesity medications,” says Dr Vamadevandas.

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