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Weight Loss Medication: The good, the bad, and the ugly

One day Lily stayed up way past her bedtime, and while she was enjoying her favourite show, she was bombarded with an infomercial that advertised a pill that could help young girls such as herself lose weight. Intrigued by the claims made in the video the next morning, she asked her mother, who was a doctor, the truth about weight loss pills.

Lily isn’t the only person who is intrigued and understandably enticed with the ideas of magical pills that would help them lose those extra pounds. Weight-loss supplements and medications are a burgeoning industry; however, one must understand that over-the-counter supplements and medications prescribed by health care professionals are completely different.

What are weight loss medications, and when are they prescribed?  

Prescription weight loss medications are drugs that either creates the feeling of fullness or decrease the individual’s appetite. At the same time, many doctors agree that the best way to lose weight is by lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and maintaining healthy eating habits.

However, in some cases, when an individual cannot lose any weight even after making the necessary lifestyle changes, the doctor might prescribe their patient weight-loss medication. Doctors will also consider the following aspects-

  • The doctor might prescribe the patient weight-loss medications if the patient has a body mass index that is greater than 30.
  • The doctor might consider prescribing weight loss medications to a patient who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and has a body mass index (BMI) greater than 27.


For people who are overweight or obese, doctors usually recommend healthy lifestyle changes such as improving eating habits and encouraging physical activities. One thing should be made clear, even for patients who have been prescribed weight loss drugs, weight loss medication is not a replacement for healthy eating habits or physical activity.

Things you should keep in mind while taking weight loss medication 

  • Follow the instructions laid out by your health care professional and only consume the prescribed.
  • Understand the side effects of your medication.
  • Know that the medication cannot replace physical activity and healthy eating habits.
  • If you don’t see any changes in your weight within 12 weeks of taking the medication, contact your doctor.
  • Tell your doctor all about your current and past medical issues, inform them about any medication you are currently taking, and talk about your family’s health issues before being prescribed any weight loss medication.
  • Also, do not take weight loss medication during pregnancy or if you are trying to get pregnant.


Benefits of taking prescription weight-loss medication 

Along with making the necessary lifestyle changes, taking the prescribed dose of weight-loss medication over the course of a year can help an individual lose 3-7% of their body weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. And according to an article published by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, people who take prescription weight loss drugs can lose 10% of their starting body weight.

Any amount of weight lost by an obese or overweight person with a BMI of more than 27 is good news because weight loss can lower blood pressure and sugar levels.

Side effects and risks involved while taking weight-loss medication 

Different drugs have different side effects, which will be explained to the patient by the doctor when the drug is being prescribed. Some common side effects noticed in many weight loss drugs are-

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal side effects like loose stools and increased flatulence.
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Increased Irritability


What are some of the commonly prescribed weight loss management drugs?

#Naltrexone-Bupropion - This drug is for adults only and is a mixture of two medications, naltrexone and bupropion. Naltrexone is used to treat alcohol, opioid, and other drug dependencies, and bupropion is used as an antidepressant and as an aid to quit smoking. The combination of the two drugs makes the person feel full sooner and less hungry. Side effects include- vomiting, diarrhoea, increases blood pressure and heart rate, cause dizziness, and may even increase suicidal thoughts.

#Orlistat - This drug is approved for adults and children age 12 and above. It is also available in a lower dose as an over-the-counter drug. Orlistat works from your gut and reduces the amount of fat your body absorbs. People who are prescribed orlistat are instructed to keep a low-fat diet. Side-effects include- flatulence, diarrhoea, and other gastrointestinal side effects.

#Liraglutide - This drug is approved for adults and children above the age of 12. It is administered daily by injections and is also used to manage diabetes. Mimics is a hormone that regulates appetite and food intake. Side effects include- constipation, nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and headaches.

In what cases are children prescribed weight loss management drugs?

While most weight management drugs are for adults only, children get prescribed weight loss management drugs if they suffer from genetic disorders, which cause obesity among them.

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