What You Should Know About Weight Loss Pills

If you are struggling to lose weight, and exercise and diet aren't producing the results you want, prescription weight loss pills may provide you with the help you need. Prescription weight loss pills are medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and can be prescribed by a healthcare professional.

The FDA has approved several medications for weight loss¹, with some being more commonly prescribed than others.

It is important to note that prescription weight loss pills are not a replacement for diet and exercise, but rather they can support your weight loss program.

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Prescription weight-loss drugs

There are several ways in which prescription weight loss pills promote weight loss.

Most prescription weight loss medications² decrease appetite or increase feelings of fullness, enabling you to eat less without feeling hungry. This makes it easier for you to stick to healthy food choices.

Other prescription weight loss medications can affect how your body handles fat. For example, they may increase your body's ability to burn fat, create a greater calorie deficit, or inhibit the absorption of fat from the foods you eat.

Some of the most common prescription weight loss medications include:

1. Orlistat

Orlistat³ is a weight-loss pill that was approved by the FDA in 1999 that works by decreasing fat absorption in your gut. This weight-loss pill can be prescribed if you are overweight and may have other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or heart disease.

Common side effects of orlistat include diarrhea, gas, leakage of oily stools, and stomach pain. In rare cases, orlistat has been linked to liver and kidney damage, and it can also interact with other medications. Health professionals tend to suggest you take a multivitamin while on orlistat to ensure you get enough nutrients because it also blocks the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

2. Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)

Phentermine-topiramate⁴ is a combination of two medications that is sold under the brand name Qsymia. Phentermine is released into the blood immediately upon ingestion and reduces food consumption by suppressing your appetite. Topiramate is time-released throughout the day and helps suppress appetite, increase feelings of fullness after meals, and boost energy.

Side effects vary according to the prescribed dosage and commonly include dry mouth, constipation, insomnia, irritability, depression, anxiety, headaches, and fatigue.

If you are pregnant or plan to be pregnant, you should avoid consuming this medication as exposure can increase the risk of your child being born with a cleft lip or palate.

3. Liraglutide (Saxenda)

Liraglutide⁵ is sold under the brand name Saxenda and is prescribed to overweight or obese patients with weight-related medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

Liraglutide is an injectable medication that suppresses your appetite and increases the feeling of fullness.

The most common side effects of liraglutide include gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. These side effects are typically worse when treatment starts and taper off with time.

In addition, liraglutide sometimes causes headaches and low blood sugar, so it should not be taken by people who take insulin or breastfeed.

Finally, your family medical history is a critical factor as to whether it is appropriate to prescribe this medication as you could be at an increased risk of gallbladder disease, acute pancreatitis, or severe hypoglycemia.

4. Naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave)

Naltrexone-bupropion⁶, marketed as Contrave, is a combination of naltrexone hydrochloride and bupropion hydrochloride. Often prescribed as part of a comprehensive weight loss program that includes a reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise, this medication impacts the central nervous system to both increase calories burned and decrease appetite.

Naltrexone-bupropion commonly causes side effects that include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, headache, dizziness, insomnia, and dry mouth.

The medication also increases the risk of seizures, increased blood pressure or heart rate, low blood sugar, liver damage, visual issues, and manic episodes in some patients.

The bupropion hydrochloride portion of the medicine can also cause suicidal thoughts or actions, particularly when first taking it, so it is important to have your usage monitored by your doctor.

5. Semaglutide

Semaglutide⁷ is a weekly injection sold under several brand names. This medication suppresses appetite by activating areas of the brain associated with appetite regulation and food consumption.

When used in conjunction with a controlled diet and regular exercise, semaglutide has been shown to help overweight or obese patients lose weight.

Some of the common side effects of semaglutide include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and abdominal pain. Some patients also experience headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and gas.

In addition, semaglutide may cause suicidal thoughts. It should not be taken if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant or have a family history of thyroid issues or disorders that affect the endocrine system.

Can prescription weight loss medication help you lose weight?

Obesity is a major issue in the United States, affecting nearly 36% of the adult population⁸. Because of the wide-ranging health consequences of obesity, healthcare professionals across many specialist medical areas treat obese patients.

If you are overweight or obese, you are at an increased risk of developing many health conditions. While it can be challenging, losing weight and keeping it off in the long term is critical to improving your health. Prescription weight-loss medicines can be an effective aid to weight loss in these situations.

Healthcare professionals generally use your body mass index (BMI) to determine whether you are overweight or obese. Your BMI measures your weight relative to your weight. Your doctor may prescribe medications if your BMI is greater than 30, which is considered to be obese. A doctor may also prescribe weight loss medications to you if you have weight-related conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure and a BMI over 27.

When combined with lifestyle changes, prescription weight loss drugs can produce significantly greater weight loss outcomes than diet and exercise alone. When used as part of a long-term weight reduction program, prescription medications can increase weight loss by as much as 3-7% over a year².

While this may not seem significant, this is a steady rate to maintain sustainable weight loss, improve your overall health, and reduce the risks of developing a serious medical condition related to obesity.

Getting a prescription

Reducing the number of calories you consume and increasing your physical activity are critical components of losing and maintaining weight. However, there are some cases where lifestyle changes aren't enough, and healthcare providers will suggest you take weight loss supplements or prescription medications.

These drugs are typically prescribed if you have weight-related health issues and are meant to complement, not replace, a diet and exercise program.

To find out whether prescription weight loss medication is right for you, make an appointment with your doctor. They may discuss with you a diet and exercise plan, and, if appropriate, they could prescribe you weight loss medication depending on your unique circumstances and medical history.

Your doctor may instead refer you to a bariatric physician. Bariatric physicians⁹ specialize in treating obesity and helping people to lose weight without surgical intervention.

Your treatment may involve a comprehensive plan including a combination of lifestyle changes and prescription weight loss medications.

The lowdown

If you are struggling with your weight, start by talking with your doctor. It is essential for you to create a healthier diet and exercise plan to help you lose weight and keep it off.

If you require extra assistance with your weight loss goals, a healthcare professional may prescribe you weight loss medication, depending on your circumstances and family history.

Keep in mind that prescription weight loss medication is not a replacement for diet and exercise, but it can be used to increase the effectiveness of your weight loss program.

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