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The Top 6 Most Important Facts About Using Weight Loss Medication

1. Weight Loss Meds Are Approved for People With Significant Weight Problems

What it’s about: The FDA has approved four drugs, orlistat (Xenical), lorcaserin (Belviq), phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), and naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave), to treat obesity in people who have a body mass index greater than 30 or a BMI of at least 27 along with an obesity-related condition such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

How many adults are considered obese?

As of this year, more than 78 million American adults were considered obese — that’s more than one in three U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it’s important: According to the Obesity Society, an estimated 500 million people worldwide are obese. The condition comes with many health concerns such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. Using medications — along with a companion diet and exercise plan — can boost weight loss success rates beyond what is seen with dietary changes alone.

What does this mean for you?

People with a BMI of at least 27 and common obesity-related medical conditions may be a candidate for weight loss meds if they have also tried lifestyle modification (diet and exercise) but haven’t been successful in losing weight or maintaining that weight loss over time.

2. Many of These Drugs Are Off-Limits to Pregnant Women

What it’s about: Some weight loss medications are not safe for pregnant women, while others have not been studied in this group.

Who needs to be cautious?

For now, all pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid the following five weight-loss drugs:

  • Sibutramine (Meridia)
  • Dexfenfluramine (Redux)
  • Ectacyclidine (Reductil)
  • Fenfluramine (Pondimin)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)

Why they’re off-limits: Sibutramine, dexfenfluramine, and fenfluramine may cause serious heart problems such as high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and would like to lose weight, talk with your doctor about other options since these medications aren’t safe in pregnancy. Medicines approved for obese adults who wish to lose weight can be used by women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding if the potential benefits outweigh the potential risk involved. The exception is lorcaserin (Belviq), which has not been studied in pregnant women yet, so it is currently off-limits for this group.

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3. The Results May Be Modest, but the Health Benefits Can Be Significant

What it’s about: When taken with a diet and exercise plan, weight loss medications can lead to an average of 5 percent weight loss over a year.

How does that compare to lifestyle changes alone?

A 5 percent reduction might not seem like much, but studies have shown that this amount of weight loss can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It may even allow people with diabetes to reduce or discontinue their medications. In addition, research has found taking these drugs long-term could help adults maintain at least 10 percent of their lost body weight after two years. That’s important because 1 out of 20 people who lose weight will gain back more than half the pounds they’ve lost within one year. Most people who gain their weight back will continue to have a higher BMI a year later.

What does this mean for you?

Weight loss medications may help keep off 5 percent of your lost weight after a year, which is on par with lifestyle changes alone over the same period. But the additional benefits seen from medications can go beyond just helping you stay at a lower weight. In addition to improved blood glucose levels and lipid profiles, these drugs have been shown to reduce some health issues affecting obese adults, such as heart disease, hypertension, and joint pain. Medication use was also tied to more stable moods and less emotional overeating in adults taking them for up to three years.

4. A Companion Diet and Exercise Plan Is Needed to Meet Long-Term Goals

What it’s about: Most of the weight loss medications approved by the FDA work in the brain, increasing a person’s sense of fullness and satisfaction after a meal. Without a companion diet and exercise plan, some people who lose some weight may regain some or all of their lost pounds over time.

How can you get help with your long-term goals?

You should meet regularly with a medical professional such as your doctor or a registered dietitian to create an overall healthy lifestyle plan. It’s also crucial that you not buy any prescription drug from an online pharmacy until checking with your local pharmacist first about medication storage and health concerns.

What does this mean for you?

The weight loss medications won’t work if you don’t have a healthy diet and exercise plan. You’ll need to meet regularly with a medical professional – such as your doctor or a registered dietitian – to create an overall healthy lifestyle plan that includes changing what you eat, increasing physical activity, and maintaining the reduced weight. This is especially important because even though many patients see results after three months, it can take 12 months of medication use before significant progress is seen. Sometimes insurance companies may require up to six months of taking these drugs first before paying for another couple of months’ worth of pills. So it’s best not to stop taking any medication until finishing at least six months on it unless advised by your doctor.

5. These Drugs Come With Side Effects

As a result, many people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma may not be able to take these drugs because their conditions could worsen from taking them. In addition, weight loss medications won’t help if you don’t have a healthy diet and exercise plan that includes regular physical activity and modifying what you eat. As is true with any prescription drug, it is also essential to let your doctor know about any health concerns so he or she can determine if this medication is proper for you.

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