Prescription Medications to Treat Overweight and Obesity

There may drug on the market to treat overweight and obesity.
Health care providers use the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measure of your weight concerning your height, to define overweight and obesity. People who have a BMI between 25 and 30 are considered overweight. Obesity is characterized as having a BMI of 30 or higher. You can calculate your BMI to learn if you are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese can raise the risk of health problems. Your healthcare provider can evaluate your individual risk due to your weight.

Obesity is a chronic condition that impacts more than one in three adults in the United States. Another one in three adults is overweight. If you have to maintain difficulty with your weight, you may observe that a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity help you lose weight and keep it off over the long term. If these lifestyle changes are not enough to help you lose weight or maintain your weight loss, your doctor may prescribe medications as part of your weight-control program.

How do weight-loss medications work?
Prescription medications to treat overweight and obesity work in different ways. For example, some drugs may help you feel less hungry or full sooner. Other drugs may make it harder for your body to absorb fat from the foods you eat.

Who might benefit from weight-loss medications?
Weight-loss medications are meant to help people who may have health problems related to overweight or obesity. Before prescribing a weight-loss drug, your doctor also will consider

the likely benefits of weight loss
the medication’s possible side effects
your current health issues and other medications
your family’s medical history
Health care professionals often use BMI to help decide who might benefit from weight-loss pills. Your doctor may prescribe a drug to treat your overweight or obesity if you are an adult with

a BMI of 30 or more or
a BMI of 27 or more and you have weight-related health problems, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.
Weight-loss medications aren’t for everyone with a high BMI. Some people who are overweight or obese may lose weight with a lifestyle program that helps them change their behaviors and improve their eating and physical activity habits. A lifestyle program may also address other factors that affect weight gain, such as eating triggers and not getting enough sleep.

Can children or teenagers take weight-loss medications?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved most weight-loss medications only for adults. The prescription medication orlistat (Xenical) is FDA-approved for children ages 12 and older.

Can medications replace physical activity and healthy eating habits as a way to lose weight?
Medications don’t replace physical activity or healthy eating habits as a way to lose weight. Studies show that weight-loss medicines work best when combined with a lifestyle program. Ask your doctor or other healthcare professional about lifestyle treatment programs for weight management that will work for you.

Two women are walking down a paved road with earbuds in their ears.
Weight-loss medications don’t replace physical activity and healthy eating habits.
What are the benefits of using prescription medications to lose weight?
When combined with changes to behavior, including eating and physical activity habits, prescription medications may help some people lose weight. On average, individuals who take prescription medications as a component of a lifestyle practice suffer between 3 and 9 percent more of their starting body weight than people in a lifestyle program who do not ingest medication. Studies show that some people taking prescription weight-loss pills lose 10 percent or more of their starting weight.1 Results vary by drug and by a person.

Weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of your starting body weight may help improve your health by lowering blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides. Losing weight also can develop some other health problems related to overweight and obesity, such as joint pain or sleep apnea. Most weight loss takes place within the first six months of starting the medication.

What are the concerns with using prescription medications to lose weight?
Experts are concerned that, in some cases, the side effects of prescription medications to treat overweight and obesity may outweigh the benefits. For this reason, you should never take weight-loss medicine only to improve the way you look. In the past, some weight-loss pills were linked to severe health problems. For example, the FDA recalled fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine (part of the “fen-phen” combination) in 1997 because of concerns related to heart valve problems.

Possible side effects vary by medication and how it acts on your body. Most side effects are mild and most often improve if you continue to take the medication. Rarely, serious side effects can occur.

Tips for Taking Weight-loss Medication
Follow your doctor’s instructions about weight-loss medications.
Buy your medication from a pharmacy or web distributor approved by your doctor.
Take weight-loss medication to support your healthy eating and physical activity program.
Know the side effects and warnings for taking any medication.
Ask your doctor if you should stop taking your medication if you are not losing weight after 12 weeks.
Discuss other medications, including supplements and vitamins, and you are taking with your doctor when considering weight-loss pills.
Avoid taking weight-loss medications during pregnancy or if you are planning a pregnancy.
Which weight-loss medication might work for me?
Choosing a medication to treat overweight or obesity is a decision between you and your doctor. Important factors to consider include

the likely benefits of weight loss
the medication’s possible side effects
your current health issues and other medications
your family’s medical history
Doctor in lab coat weighing obese patient in the blue shirt.
Talk with your doctor about which weight-loss medication might be right for you.
How long will I need to take weight-loss medication?
How long you will need to take weight-loss medication depends on whether the drug helps you lose and maintain weight and whether you have any side effects. If you have lost enough weight to improve your health and are not having severe side effects, your doctor may advise that you stay on the medication indefinitely. If you do not lose at least 5 percent of your starting weight after 12 weeks on the full dose of your drug, your doctor will probably advise you to stop taking it. He or she may change your treatment plan or consider using different weight-loss medicine. Your physician also may have you try different lifestyle, physical activity, or eating programs; change your other medications that cause weight gain; or refer you to a bariatric surgeon to see if weight-loss surgery might be an option for you.

Because obesity is a chronic condition, you may need to continue changes to your eating and physical activity habits and other behaviors for years—or even a lifetime—to improve your health and maintain a healthy weight.

Will I regain some weight after I stop taking weight-loss medication?
You will probably regain some weight after you stop taking weight-loss medication. Developing and maintaining healthy eating habits and increasing physical activity may help you recover less weight or keep it off. Federal physical activity guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week for adults—that’s about 30 minutes a day most days of the week. You may need to do more to reach or maintain your weight-loss goal.

Will insurance cover the cost of weight-loss medication?
Some, but not all, insurance plans cover medications that treat overweight and obesity. Contact your insurance organization to find out if your policy covers these medications.

What medications are available to treat overweight and obesity?
The table below lists FDA-approved prescription medications for weight loss. The FDA has approved five of these drugs—orlistat (Xenical, Alli), lorcaserin (Belviq), naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave), phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), and liraglutide (Saxenda)—for long-term use. You can keep taking these drugs as long as you are benefiting from treatment and not having unpleasant side-effects.

Some weight-loss medications that the FDA allows curb appetite only for short-term use, or up to 12 weeks. Although some physicians prescribe them for more extended periods of time, not many research studies have looked at how safe and effective they are for long-term use.

Pregnant women should never take weight-loss medications. Women who are planning to get pregnant

How do doctors use prescription medications “off-label” to treat overweight and obesity?
Sometimes doctors use medications in a way that’s distinct from what the FDA has approved, known as “off-label” use. By choosing off-label medicine to treat overweight and obesity, your doctor may prescribe

a drug approved for treating a different medical problem
two or more drugs at the same time
a prescription for a more extended period of time than recommended by the FDA
You should feel comfortable asking your doctor if he or she is prescribing a medication that is not approved just for managing overweight and obesity. Before using a drug, learn all you need to know about it.

What may other medications for weight loss be available in the future?
Researchers are currently investigating several new medications and combinations of medicines in animals and people. Researchers are working to identify safer and more effective drugs to help people who are overweight or obese reduce weight and support a healthy weight for a prolonged time.

Future drugs may use new strategies, such as to

Consolidate drugs that affect appetite and those that affect addiction (or craving)
stimulate gut hormones that reduce appetite
narrow the blood vessels that feed fat cells in the body, thereby preventing them from growing
target genes that affect body weight
increase bacteria in the gut to control weight

Health Life Media Team