Weight-loss drugs have exploded in popularity over the last year, with people filling social media with their success stories. But these medications come with potential risks — and some are more serious than others.
As drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Zepbound become household names, there is an increasing number of testimonies from former patients about a range of complications they’ve experienced while taking the medications. Stomach paralysis, gastrointestinal illness and suicidal thoughts are just a few of the problems patients have dealt with.
Here are their stories, along with information from doctors regarding who is most at risk — as well as how to help lower the odds you’ll encounter this as well.
‘This medicine made my life hell.’
Joanie Knight told CNN that she was diagnosed with severe gastroparesis, aka stomach paralysis, after taking Ozempic. (Gastroparesis is a condition that slows or even stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain and vomiting, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases).
“I wish I never touched it. I wish I’d never heard of it in my life,” the 37-year-old from Angie, La., said. “This medicine made my life hell. So much hell. It has cost me money. It cost me a lot of stress; it cost me days and nights and trips with my family. It’s cost me a lot, and it’s not worth it. The price is too high.” Knight said her doctor suspects her condition was either caused by the medication or exacerbated by it.
Knight said she start vomiting violently after having a birthday dinner in 2021, even though she didn’t eat much. “I thought, ‘I hadn’t eaten. How am I throwing up this much?’” She ended up seeing a gastroenterologist who told her that her stomach was full of food.
Knight said she felt constantly nauseous and took a prescribed antinausea medication “like it was candy.” She eventually went off Ozempic and had stomach bypass surgery. “Previously, I was on an extreme amount of vitamins because I wasn’t eating. Now I can eat enough that I’m not malnourished,” she said.
‘She had a little bit of brown stuff coming out of her mouth and I realized she wasn’t breathing.’
Australian dad Roy Webster said his wife, Trish, died after taking Ozempic along with weight-loss drug Saxenda to lose weight for their daughter’s wedding. Webster told “60 Minutes” that, while his wife lost weight, she was also sick a lot.
Last January, Webster said that “something went seriously wrong” and Trish stopped breathing. “She had a little bit of brown stuff coming out of her mouth and I realized she wasn’t breathing and started doing CPR,” he said. “It was just pouring out, and I turned her onto the side because she couldn’t breathe.”
Trish’s death certificate lists acute gastrointestinal illness as her cause of death. Webster believes the medications contributed to his wife’s death and now urges other people to be wary of them. “I never thought you could die from it,” he said.
‘Burps that taste and smell like rotten eggs’
Derron Borders told the Atlantic that he experienced a side effect every few minutes that’s been dubbed “Ozempic burps” while taking the medication. “‘Burps that taste and smell like rotten eggs’ — I think that’s what I typed in Google,” he said.
The Ozempic website lists nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting and constipation as potential side effects, but it doesn’t mention burping. However, burping (or, more formally, eructation) affected 9% of patients in clinical trials for semaglutide, the active ingredient in drugs like Ozempic. Since these weight-loss drugs slow stomach emptying, the sulfur burping may be caused by air building up in the digestive system.
‘Teeth falling out due to excessive vomiting’
Louisiana resident Jaclyn Bjorklund is suing Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic, after alleging that the medication made her severely ill. The lawsuit, which is posted on her lawyer’s website, says that the 44-year-old was “severely injured” after taking the medication.
Bjorklund said in the lawsuit that she used Ozempic for more than a year, and switched to Mounjaro in July 2023. According to the lawsuit, taking the medications caused her to develop “severe vomiting, stomach pain, gastrointestinal burning, being hospitalized for stomach issues on several occasions including visits to the emergency room, [and] teeth falling out due to excessive vomiting, requiring additional medications to alleviate her excessive vomiting, and throwing up whole food hours after eating.”
‘I just feel like killing myself’
The family of a man identified only by his first name, Anthony, is speaking out after they say he died by suicide after he began taking Ozempic for Type 2 diabetes.
Anthony’s sister Merlene Hall told NBC News that her brother became uncharacteristically quiet around the same time as he started taking Ozempic in February. By early May, he seemed fatigued and his mood appeared to be getting worse.
“He’s usually very charismatic, talking and joking. He’s a pretty outgoing guy. But he was fairly quiet,” his fiancé, Carolyn Hasty, said. “I came home and he was sitting in the kitchen and he said, ‘Help me, babe, you got to help me. I just feel like killing myself.'”
On May 14, Anthony died by suicide in his home. His family said he experienced depression in the past, but believes that the medication exacerbated his symptoms. “I think the Ozempic was putting these suicidal thoughts in his mind,” Hall said.
Unlike Ozempic, Wegovy has a warning about suicidal thoughts. According to Drugs.com, semaglutide (Wegovy) for weight loss “should be avoided in patients with a history of suicidal attempts or active suicidal ideation.”
‘If I knew what the side effects were … I would have never gone on it’
Dawn Gentle took Ozempic for her Type 2 diabetes between 2018 and 2021, but she told Healthline she was rushed to the emergency room in 2021 after experiencing extreme stomach pain. There she was diagnosed with pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas.
“I found out about this side effect after I was rushed to the emergency room at the hospital,” Gentle said. “The doctor asked me about the medications that I was taking for my diabetes. When I informed him about taking Ozempic, he said to ‘stop taking that drug right away.’ It had caused my pancreatitis.”
She stayed in the hospital for a week and, since receiving her diagnosis, has had four procedures to treat her condition. She also learned that she had a cancerous tumor on the end of her pancreas. “When I asked the doctor if it was also caused by taking Ozempic, he was nice enough to inform me that it was strongly possible,” she said.
However, Dr. Rekha Kumar, chief medical officer at Found, told Healthline that research hasn’t so far shown that GLP-1 drugs cause pancreatic cancer. “This is a correlation and not a causation. This has been well studied,” Kumar said.
Gentle said she wishes she had never taken the medication. “If I knew what the side effects were … I would have never gone on it,” she said.
Doctors weigh in
Weigh-loss drugs have become a popular way to lose weight. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 4% of adults say they’re currently taking a prescription drug to lose weight and one in 10 say they have previously taken one of these medications for weight loss in the past.
Despite the scary stories, doctors say that serious complications of these medications aren’t common. “No matter what medication we give, there is some risk,” Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. “The overall thought is that these medications are safe and that the incidence of serious complication is low.”
Dr. Kunal Shah of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center, agrees, telling Yahoo Life that serious complications are “very, very uncommon, but they certainly can happen.” He says that “gastrointestinal issues are relatively common. People will have a baseline level of nausea, or will have diarrhea or constipation — that usually does go away after a period of time.”
Doctors typically prescribe these medications at lower doses to start and then increase the dosage in an attempt to lower the risk of these side effects, Ali explains.
A recent study found that those taking GLP-1 medications, such as Ozempic, for weight loss had a higher risk of pancreatitis, bowel obstruction and gastroparesis. But everyone is different, Steven Batash, a gastroenterologist and leading physician at the Batash Endoscopic Weight Loss Center, tells Yahoo Life. “It’s important to remember that the effects of weight-loss medications can vary widely among individuals,” he says. “Factors such as overall health, other medical conditions, medications being taken concurrently and individual responses can influence how [these medications] affect patients.”
Patients who already have stomach issues and those with thyroid conditions may be at a greater risk of complications than others, Ali says. The link between weight-loss drugs and suicidal thoughts hasn’t been established beyond anecdotal evidence, Shah says, but it’s still something to discuss with your doctor if you suffer from depression.
Overall, doctors stress the importance of having a conversation with your medical care provider before going on one of these weight-loss medications, and continuing to talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling while you’re on them. “It’s important to consult a medical professional as they’ll properly educate patients on possible symptoms,” Batash says.
Doctors recommend being patient with minor side effects like nausea when starting one of these medications. “Users must give weight-loss drugs some time to adjust to their bodies,” Batash says. “In the interim, staying hydrated is critical.”
But Shah also recommends flagging any persistent symptoms for your doctor. “Persistent gastrointestinal symptoms are concerning,” he says. “These are relatively safe medications, but everyone should be aware of the potential side effects.”