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Will Ozempic Be Safe Over the Long Term?

Ozempic (semaglutide) seems less likely than some other medications to trigger cardiovascular problems, but diabetic retinopathy may worsen.
Will Ozempic Be Safe Over the Long Term?
Close up man checking blood on sugar level. Home medical test. Concept of blood sugar level testing. Glucometer and test stripe. Glycemia, diabetes. Step by step instruction. Step 4

Over the past several years, the FDA has approved a number of injectable medications designed to help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar. You may have seen some of them advertised on television and wondered how well they work. Perhaps the doctor has prescribed a drug such as dulaglutide, liraglutide or semaglutide. One reader wonders whether semaglutide (Ozempic) will be safe for her husband over months or years.

How Safe Is Ozempic?

Q. What can you tell me about the safety and long-term use of Ozempic to treat type 2 diabetes? My husband’s A1c is around 7.2.

TRecently, the endocrinologist said he wants my husband to try Ozempic. He would take it along with his metformin and glimepiride to see if he can do better. He is not overweight and is careful with his diet. However, I’m worried about injectables at his age of 64. What are the long-term effects?

A. Doctors prescribe to improve blood sugar control for people with type 2 diabetes. Like liraglutide, this injectable medication acts like glucagon in the body (Frontiers in Endocrinology, April 12, 2019). Ozempic helps to keep blood glucose under control, prevent weight gain, manage blood pressure and maintain blood fats within a healthy range. Your husband might be able to lower his glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) level by taking this drug. The HbA1c, or A1c as you term it, is a way of evaluating blood sugar control over a few months.

The FDA approved Ozempic for use in the US only in 2017, so we have three years of experience on long-term effects. Clinical trials suggest that it is less likely to lead to cardiovascular problems than similar medicines (Diabetes & Metabolism, Oct. 2019).

Be Wary of Interactions:

We worry that your husband’s glimepiride, a sulfonylurea medicine, could interact with the Ozempic injection. This combination could increase the risk of a serious episode of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Symptoms can include fatigue, confusion, blurred vision, seizures and coma.

Common side effects of semaglutide include digestive distress. In addition, other adverse reactions may include thyroid cancer and pancreatitis. Importantly, if your husband has the eye disease diabetic retinopathy, using Ozempic might make it worse (Eye, Dec. 2019).

Tell Us About It:

If you have been taking Ozempic for type 2 diabetes, we are interested in your experience. Tell us about it in the comment section where you can share your thoughts. Also, if you have found this information helpful, please feel free to share it with your friends and family using the icons at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Knudsen LB & Lau J, "The discovery and development of liraglutide and semaglutide." Frontiers in Endocrinology, April 12, 2019. DOI: 10.3389/fendo.2019.00155
  • Aroda VR et al, " Comparative efficacy, safety, and cardiovascular outcomes with once-weekly subcutaneous semaglutide in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: Insights from the SUSTAIN 1-7 trials." Diabetes & Metabolism, Oct. 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.diabet.2018.12.001
  • Saw M et al, "New anti-hyperglycaemic agents for type 2 diabetes and their effects on diabetic retinopathy." Eye, Dec. 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41433-019-0494-z
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