CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) RESOURCE CENTER Read More

Add To Favorites

Top of the pageDecision Point

Obesity: Should I Take Weight-Loss Medicine?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Obesity: Should I Take Weight-Loss Medicine?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Take weight-loss medicine, along with trying to eat healthy foods and being active.
  • Try to lose weight without weight-loss medicines by eating healthy foods and being active.

Key points to remember

  • Being overweight makes you more likely to have serious health problems, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight-loss medicines may be an option if you haven't been able to lose weight with lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and exercise.
  • Medicine may help you lose weight. Weight-loss medicine is used long-term along with healthy eating and being more active.
  • You must decide if the benefit of taking a certain medicine outweighs its side effects. Side effects of weight-loss medicines may include headaches, nausea, and bowel problems.
  • Weight-loss medicines can be expensive. They may not be covered by your health plan.
  • It is important to talk with your doctor about how much weight you expect to lose and how long you would need to take the medicine.
FAQs

What are weight-loss medicines?

Weight-loss medicines work by making you feel less hungry, making you feel full more quickly, or changing how you digest fat.

Here are some examples of medicines used for weight loss. Many are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for being overweight or having obesity. Other medicines with the same ingredients are often used to help with weight loss.

  • Semaglutide (Wegovy, Ozempic). It may help you eat less. It's given as a shot or pill.
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda). This medicine may help you eat less. It's given as a shot once a day.
  • Tirzepatide (Zepbound). This medicine may help you eat less. You take this medicine as a shot once a week.
  • Phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia). This medicine combines the drugs phentermine and topiramate. Taking it once a day can help you eat less.
  • Bupropion/naltrexone (Contrave). This medicine may reduce your appetite. It may help you avoid overeating.
  • Orlistat (Xenical). Orlistat prevents some of the fat calories you eat from being absorbed in your intestines. It's also available without a prescription under the brand name Alli. Alli is half as strong as Xenical.

How well do weight-loss medicines work?

Many people are able to lose 5% to 16% or more of their body weight, depending on how they respond to the medicine.footnote 1 Weight-loss medicines are used long-term along with healthy eating and being more active. Long-term changes in eating and exercise habits can help you reach and stay at a weight that's healthy for you.

What are the risks and side effects of some weight-loss medicines?

Many weight-loss medicines have side effects like nausea, vomiting, headaches, and changes in bowel habits.

Some medicines are more likely to cause side effects than others. For example:

  • Blood pressure changes can occur with naltrexone-bupropion and semaglutide.
  • Changes in bowel habits can occur with orlistat. These changes may include oily or fatty stool and being unable to control bowel movements.

Sometimes the side effects are mild and go away over time. If you decide to take medicine, tell your doctor about any side effects you have.

The risks depend on which medicine you are taking. Risks are not common. Some weight-loss medicines may not be safe for people with certain health conditions or who take certain medicines. Weight-loss medicine also can harm a pregnancy or baby. Do not take these medicines if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

Why might your doctor recommend weight-loss medicine?

Weight-loss medicines may be an option for people who have obesity or who are overweight and have weight-related health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. These medicines may help some people who haven't been able to lose weight with diet and exercise.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Take weight-loss medicines Take weight-loss medicines
  • Depending on your medicine, you may take pills or shots.
  • You also try to make lasting changes in your diet and physical activity level.
  • Weight-loss medicines can help you lose weight.
  • Weight loss may decrease the chance of early death and improve quality of life.
  • Weight loss may improve or even reverse health problems related to obesity, like diabetes, high cholesterol, or trouble getting pregnant.
  • Possible side effects include:
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Headache.
    • Changes in bowel habits.
    • Blood pressure changes.
  • To maintain weight loss, you may need to take the medicine long-term. Healthy eating and being more active can also help you reach your goals.
  • Weight-loss medicines can be expensive. They may not be covered by your health plan.
Use only diet and exercise to lose weight Use only diet and exercise to lose weight
  • You try to make lasting changes in your diet and physical activity.
  • Eating fewer calories while being more active may help you lose weight.
  • You avoid the risks and side effects of taking weight-loss medicines.
  • You avoid the cost of taking medicine.
  • It can be hard to lose weight with diet and exercise alone.
  • If you aren't able to lose weight using diet and exercise, you're more likely to have related health problems. These may include heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Personal stories about using medicine for obesity

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I was concerned about taking a weight-loss medicine. After struggling to lose not even 5 pounds over the past 8 months, I am now ready to see if medicines can add anything to the good habits I've tried to establish. I know the medicine isn't going to be a magic bullet. But I hope it can give me that extra help I seem to need.

John, age 50

I don't expect to be able to lose weight quickly. I want to set a good example for my kids so we can all build healthy eating habits. I want to try to lose weight by eating healthy foods and by being more active with my kids. I don't want to take medicine right now.

Alyx, age 36

My sister has been taking a weight-loss medicine for about 4 months now, and she has been eating healthy. We have been walking together 3 times a week. She has lost about 10 pounds already. I don't think I've lost any weight yet, even though I have been watching what I eat, too. Maybe medicines can help me lose weight.

Susan, age 50

The side effects of weight loss medicines sound pretty unpleasant to me. I have made a few changes in my diet, and I started walking twice a week. I'm going to give myself at least a year of healthy eating and exercising before I think about taking a medicine.

Peyton, age 23

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to take weight-loss medicine

Reasons not to take weight-loss medicine

I am open to taking medicine.

I don't like the idea of taking medicine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I have tried diet and exercise, and I just can't seem to lose weight.

I want to keep trying diet and exercise before I start taking medicine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about the cost of medicine.

I don't think I can afford the cost of medicine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I think losing weight is worth the side effects of medicine.

I don't think the side effects are worth it to lose weight.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm willing to take medicine long-term to help reach and stay at a healthy weight.

I'm not willing to take medicine long-term to help reach and stay at a healthy weight.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Taking weight-loss medicine

NOT taking weight-loss medicine

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1, Weight-loss medicine is all I need to lose weight permanently.
2, I may have side effects if I take weight-loss medicine.

Decide what's next

1,Do you understand the options available to you?
2,Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3,Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
AuthorHealthwise Staff
Clinical Review BoardClinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

References
Citations
  1. Drugs and devices for weight management. (2022). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 64(1651): 81–88a. Accessed July 12, 2023.
  2. Tondt J, et al. (2023). Obesity Algorithm eBook, presented by the Obesity Medicine Association. https://obesitymedicine.org/obesity-algorithm. Accessed October 30, 2023.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Obesity: Should I Take Weight-Loss Medicine?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Take weight-loss medicine, along with trying to eat healthy foods and being active.
  • Try to lose weight without weight-loss medicines by eating healthy foods and being active.

Key points to remember

  • Being overweight makes you more likely to have serious health problems, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight-loss medicines may be an option if you haven't been able to lose weight with lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and exercise.
  • Medicine may help you lose weight. Weight-loss medicine is used long-term along with healthy eating and being more active.
  • You must decide if the benefit of taking a certain medicine outweighs its side effects. Side effects of weight-loss medicines may include headaches, nausea, and bowel problems.
  • Weight-loss medicines can be expensive. They may not be covered by your health plan.
  • It is important to talk with your doctor about how much weight you expect to lose and how long you would need to take the medicine.
FAQs

What are weight-loss medicines?

Weight-loss medicines work by making you feel less hungry, making you feel full more quickly, or changing how you digest fat.

Here are some examples of medicines used for weight loss. Many are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for being overweight or having obesity. Other medicines with the same ingredients are often used to help with weight loss.

  • Semaglutide (Wegovy, Ozempic). It may help you eat less. It's given as a shot or pill.
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda). This medicine may help you eat less. It's given as a shot once a day.
  • Tirzepatide (Zepbound). This medicine may help you eat less. You take this medicine as a shot once a week.
  • Phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia). This medicine combines the drugs phentermine and topiramate. Taking it once a day can help you eat less.
  • Bupropion/naltrexone (Contrave). This medicine may reduce your appetite. It may help you avoid overeating.
  • Orlistat (Xenical). Orlistat prevents some of the fat calories you eat from being absorbed in your intestines. It's also available without a prescription under the brand name Alli. Alli is half as strong as Xenical.

How well do weight-loss medicines work?

Many people are able to lose 5% to 16% or more of their body weight, depending on how they respond to the medicine.1 Weight-loss medicines are used long-term along with healthy eating and being more active. Long-term changes in eating and exercise habits can help you reach and stay at a weight that's healthy for you.

What are the risks and side effects of some weight-loss medicines?

Many weight-loss medicines have side effects like nausea, vomiting, headaches, and changes in bowel habits.

Some medicines are more likely to cause side effects than others. For example:

  • Blood pressure changes can occur with naltrexone-bupropion and semaglutide.
  • Changes in bowel habits can occur with orlistat. These changes may include oily or fatty stool and being unable to control bowel movements.

Sometimes the side effects are mild and go away over time. If you decide to take medicine, tell your doctor about any side effects you have.

The risks depend on which medicine you are taking. Risks are not common. Some weight-loss medicines may not be safe for people with certain health conditions or who take certain medicines. Weight-loss medicine also can harm a pregnancy or baby. Do not take these medicines if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

Why might your doctor recommend weight-loss medicine?

Weight-loss medicines may be an option for people who have obesity or who are overweight and have weight-related health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. These medicines may help some people who haven't been able to lose weight with diet and exercise.

2. Compare your options

Take weight-loss medicines Use only diet and exercise to lose weight
What is usually involved?
  • Depending on your medicine, you may take pills or shots.
  • You also try to make lasting changes in your diet and physical activity level.
  • You try to make lasting changes in your diet and physical activity.
What are the benefits?
  • Weight-loss medicines can help you lose weight.
  • Weight loss may decrease the chance of early death and improve quality of life.
  • Weight loss may improve or even reverse health problems related to obesity, like diabetes, high cholesterol, or trouble getting pregnant.
  • Eating fewer calories while being more active may help you lose weight.
  • You avoid the risks and side effects of taking weight-loss medicines.
  • You avoid the cost of taking medicine.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Possible side effects include:
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Headache.
    • Changes in bowel habits.
    • Blood pressure changes.
  • To maintain weight loss, you may need to take the medicine long-term. Healthy eating and being more active can also help you reach your goals.
  • Weight-loss medicines can be expensive. They may not be covered by your health plan.
  • It can be hard to lose weight with diet and exercise alone.
  • If you aren't able to lose weight using diet and exercise, you're more likely to have related health problems. These may include heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Personal stories

Personal stories about using medicine for obesity

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I was concerned about taking a weight-loss medicine. After struggling to lose not even 5 pounds over the past 8 months, I am now ready to see if medicines can add anything to the good habits I've tried to establish. I know the medicine isn't going to be a magic bullet. But I hope it can give me that extra help I seem to need."

— John, age 50

"I don't expect to be able to lose weight quickly. I want to set a good example for my kids so we can all build healthy eating habits. I want to try to lose weight by eating healthy foods and by being more active with my kids. I don't want to take medicine right now."

— Alyx, age 36

"My sister has been taking a weight-loss medicine for about 4 months now, and she has been eating healthy. We have been walking together 3 times a week. She has lost about 10 pounds already. I don't think I've lost any weight yet, even though I have been watching what I eat, too. Maybe medicines can help me lose weight."

— Susan, age 50

"The side effects of weight loss medicines sound pretty unpleasant to me. I have made a few changes in my diet, and I started walking twice a week. I'm going to give myself at least a year of healthy eating and exercising before I think about taking a medicine."

— Peyton, age 23

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to take weight-loss medicine

Reasons not to take weight-loss medicine

I am open to taking medicine.

I don't like the idea of taking medicine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I have tried diet and exercise, and I just can't seem to lose weight.

I want to keep trying diet and exercise before I start taking medicine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about the cost of medicine.

I don't think I can afford the cost of medicine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I think losing weight is worth the side effects of medicine.

I don't think the side effects are worth it to lose weight.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm willing to take medicine long-term to help reach and stay at a healthy weight.

I'm not willing to take medicine long-term to help reach and stay at a healthy weight.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Taking weight-loss medicine

NOT taking weight-loss medicine

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Weight-loss medicine is all I need to lose weight permanently.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Medicine will probably help you lose weight. To maintain weight loss, you may need to take the medicine long-term. Healthy eating and being more active can also help you reach your goals.

2. I may have side effects if I take weight-loss medicine.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Side effects of weight-loss medicines might include headaches, nausea, bowel problems, and changes in blood pressure. Some people stop taking the medicine because the side effects are too unpleasant.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.
Credits
ByHealthwise Staff
Clinical Review BoardClinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

References
Citations
  1. Drugs and devices for weight management. (2022). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 64(1651): 81–88a. Accessed July 12, 2023.
  2. Tondt J, et al. (2023). Obesity Algorithm eBook, presented by the Obesity Medicine Association. https://obesitymedicine.org/obesity-algorithm. Accessed October 30, 2023.

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document some Information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.