Popular weight loss drug leads to stomach paralysis

What started out as a drug for diabetics has snowballed into a weight loss phenomenon, endorsed (and even denied) by Hollywood celebrities.

But behind the striking before-and-after photos is a struggle that many people don’t see. Medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy are having catastrophic effects on many users, causing severe illness and stomach paralysis.

woman measuring her waist in the kitchen

What is the difference between Ozempic and Wegovy?

Ozempic is a drug, referred to generically as a semaglutide. This drug was approved by the FDA in 2017 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and is meant for use with adults who suffer type 2 diabetes. The weekly injection helps to lower blood sugar levels by helping the pancreas create more insulin.

Wegovy is a higher-dose version of Ozempic, and has been approved for weight loss. Wegovy is also an injectable, but not approved to treat people with diabetes, though they are able to take this drug.

The full list of semaglutide drugs that have negatively affected consumers include:

  • Mounjaro
  • Ozempic
  • Ryblesus
  • Saxena
  • Wegovy

What are the dangerous side effects of these drugs?

Some consumers of these drugs have been stricken with gastroparesis, commonly referred to as “paralyzed stomach.” The side effects of gastroparesis include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Excessive bloating
  • Excessive belching
  • Heartburn

Semaglutide drugs include medications such as tirzepatide and liraglutide, which work by mimicking a hormone that’s naturally-occurring within the body: GLP-1. The role of GLP-1 is to slow the passage of food through the stomach. The idea behind this is to help consumers feel full longer helping them to achieve their weight loss goals However, if the stomach slows down too much, it can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal tract.

Some consumers had become so ill that they needed to be hospitalized for dehydration, among other issues. Certain individuals have been diagnosed with cyclic vomiting syndrome, which causes people to vomit multiple times a day. Some sufferers now take a medication called Zofran to lessen the severity of the nausea, and probiotics to restore their compromised gut health.

So far, the extreme cases are rare. But as the popularity of this drug has soared, similar cases will soon come to light. In fact, red flags are popping up in the medical field. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has warned that patients should stop taking this class of drugs at least one week prior to surgery. Even if these patients fast as directed, the slow-down of digestion may cause them to regurgitate their food during an operation. Vomiting under anesthesia can cause food and stomach acids to be trapped in the lungs, which can cause pneumonia and other issues after surgery.

Man with gastroparesis

Severe cases of gastroparesis

Per a news story on CNN, Joanie Knight had a horrific experience on her birthday. She went to one of her favorite restaurants and ordered chicken fajitas. After just three skinny French fries and a couple of pieces of chicken – she felt panic set in. She couldn’t swallow her food. Knight, who had been on Ozempic for two years prior to that point, felt like the food was stuck in her throat. That birthday dinner ended in a night of violent vomiting.

After this episode, she visited a gastroenterologist. She didn’t understand how she could have vomited that much, considering that Ozempic makes it so that she eats very little food on a daily basis. When the gastroenterologist put a tube down her throat, they noticed that her stomach was “full of food.”

Normally, less than 10% of a meal will remain in the stomach four hours after consumption. If that number climbs between 10%-15% left over, it’s considered mild gastroparesis. It becomes moderate when that number is between 15%-35%, and severe when over 35%. This gastric emptying study showed that Knight was in the severe category, and she admitted to popping anti-nausea pills “like it was candy.”

Box of Ozempic

Photo credit: CBS News

Holding drug companies accountable

Novo Nordisk, the creator of Ozempic and Wegovy, defended their product, stating that drugs in this class have been used for 15 years to treat diabetes, and for 8 years to treat obesity. They also claim that these drugs have been extensively studied in clinical trials, as well as real-world application.

“Gastrointestinal (GI) events are well-known side effects of the GLP-1 class. For semaglutide, the majority of GI side effects are mild to moderate in severity and of short duration. GLP-1’s are known to cause a delay in gastric emptying, as noted in the label of each of our GLP-1 RA medications. Symptoms of delayed gastric emptying, nausea, and vomiting are listed as side effects,” the statement said.

However, there are numerous reports stating that the manufacturers of these types of drugs failed to provide adequate warning to patients and doctors about the potential gastrointestinal side effects. While the prescription medication does warn of nausea and vomiting, it only mentions that it creates a delay in stomach emptying in the context of it possibly affecting the absorption of other medications.

This lack of transparency on the side effects has made it difficult for doctors to diagnose the core issues of many patients suffering from this class of drugs. Because of this, cases are likely being underreported. Though Joanie Knight was in the severe category for gastrointestinal emptying, it took doctors four months to pinpoint Ozempic as the culprit.

close up of a woman giving herself a stomach injection

In fact, Emily Wright of Toronto vomited daily and had to be hospitalized for dehydration, but doctors did not attribute it to Ozempic. Her case was so severe, she noted that when she did throw up, it was from meals eaten 3-4 days prior. In fact, they prescribed two additional medications to treat the nausea, until they realized Ozempic was behind the problem.

What’s more, is that many people who have taken these drugs still suffer from gastrointestinal issues long after they’ve stopped using the medication. Some previous users have had gastroparesis for over a year after they stopped taking these drugs.

These medications have had a steep medical and emotional toll on those who have suffered severe side effects. To treat her severe gastroparesis, Joanie Knight had to undergo stomach bypass surgery. Even with this intervention, she’s not completely well but hopes her body will heal over time.

When taking into account lost work productivity, sitting out on family trips, and overall quality of life, we are just beginning to see the long-term effects of these issues.

If you or a loved one have suffered severe side effects from taking Ozempic, Wegovy, or another semaglutide-based drug, the compassionate product liability attorneys at Allen & Allen are happy to hear your unique story. This case evaluation is at no cost to you, and all details will remain confidential. Call today, at 866-388-1307.