While an Ozempic prescription appears to be becoming more popular, there are some questions about how the medication affects certain demographics — especially certain age groups.
Ozempic, a prescription drug for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, has gained national attention for one of its side effects: weight loss.
It’s become a viral buzz on TikTok with the term “Ozempic” receiving hundreds of millions of views, celebrities and influencers praising the drug for its weight loss benefits, and a spike in demand even triggered a shortage in 2022.
While the intended purpose is to help the pancreas produce insulin, Ozempic and other semaglutide drugs (such as Wegovy) work by targeting receptors in the brain to reduce hunger and create a feeling of fullness.
One study found that semaglutide can help people lose an average of 10 percent or more of their weight after 6 months of use.
But how this medication will affect those who use it for weight loss, especially older adults, is not well understood. Clinical trials and research of Ozempic have not included a significant number of people aged 65 and older, leaving gaps in the available data that experts warn are cause for concern.
That said, Ozempic has the potential to affect different age groups—not just older adults—differently.
Although Ozempic is approved for people 18 years of age and older, it should always be prescribed with caution and in the context of a person’s age, Rekha Kumar, MD, MSThe chief medical officer at the medically assisted weight loss program Found and a practicing endocrinologist in NYC said Health.
“When we prescribe these (semaglutide) drugs, we should keep in mind what side effects and what other medical conditions may be present at a particular stage of life,” Kumar said. “We should also consider contraindications that may be related to life stage.”
Contraindications for Ozempic are:
- Personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (a type of thyroid cancer)
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (an inherited condition associated with cancer of the thyroid, parathyroid and neuroendocrine system)
- A severe allergic reaction to semaglutide or other ingredients in Ozempic
Teenagers are generally not recommended to use these medications due to ongoing body development and limited research on long-term effects, Raj Dasgupta, MDsaid a clinical associate professor at the University of Southern California who practices at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles Health.
Dasgupta added that for people between the ages of 20 and 60, Ozempic for off-label, weight loss may be a good choice if lifestyle changes haven’t worked, but decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.
A particular concern is for adults 60 and older. Since the majority of research on semaglutide is in individuals in their 40s and 50s, the limited data available are not promising, Dasgupta said.
In clinical trials with semaglutide, people 65 and older were more likely to experience gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea and vomiting. They were also more likely to stop taking the medication because of side effects in general.
Kumar emphasized that the use of Ozempic in patients over 60 should also be approached with caution, as an underlying disease could be present and a symptom could be weight loss.
“It could look like they are succeeding in their weight loss journey,” Kumar said. “But something ominous could be going on in the background, such as a new cancer or a new inflammatory condition.”
That’s part of why it can be difficult to treat patients aged 60 and up, she said.
“We definitely don’t want to assume that someone’s weight loss success is just due to weight loss medication and the overall weight loss program,” she reiterated.
Like most prescription drugs, side effects are normal and to be expected, but Ozempic can affect people differently depending on their age.
For women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the FDA-approved label states that there are “limited data with the use of semaglutide in pregnant women to inform about a drug-associated risk of adverse developmental outcomes.” Based on animal studies, “there may be potential risks to the fetus from exposure to semaglutide during pregnancy.”
The label advises that Ozempic “should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.”
In addition to pregnancy concerns, Kumar shared Health that one of the most troubling side effects of Ozempic would be related to the warnings on the prescribing information.
“This is a concern because it is being prescribed so liberally by some doctors that it is possible that patients are not providing a good medical history,” she said.
Without a thorough medical history, a drug can be prescribed which can be dangerous for the patient.
Other general side effects include fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea. Skin sagging or aging, often referred to as “Ozempic Face” or “Ozempic Butt”, is also common.
“Loose skin can happen with any rapid weight loss, not just with these medications,” Dasgupta said. “It’s mostly a cosmetic problem, but in some cases it can cause discomfort or other problems.”
To minimize this, Dasgupta recommends people try to lose weight gradually, maintain a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, exercise, hydration and sleep.
In rare cases, Ozempic can cause more serious side effects, including inflammation of the pancreas, changes in vision, and severe allergic reactions.
For anyone interested in taking Ozempic or a similar medication, it’s important to talk to a doctor about how the drug works and what benefits and side effects to expect based on your age and health.
It is also important to provide your doctor with a comprehensive medical history of you and your immediate family to ensure that any illnesses or risks can be mitigated.
Kumar added that new alcohol use or binge eating in certain age groups can be a problem with the medication, so being transparent about any lifestyle habits with your doctor will help them make the right choice for you.
“I would recommend that patients ask their doctors how they see the long-term plan for their weight loss program and the continued role of medication,” Kumar said. “It’s not black and white—there are options in between for continued use of medication to maintain healthy weight loss.”