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Doctors are warning popular drugs taken for weight loss, such as Ozempic and Wegovy, may include the risk of life-threatening complications under anesthesia.
Anesthesiologists are advising people to ditch the drugs for up to three weeks before undergoing surgery or any procedure that requires anesthesia, a prudent way to limit a risk of aspiration they have seen with some patients on these drugs.
When someone is under anesthesia, their stomach needs to be empty to avoid aspirating contents into the lungs. Anesthesiologists, though, have found that some patients on medications with the active ingredient of semaglutide – which would include both Ozempic and Wegovy – had full stomachs even after fasting for hours. Pulmonary aspiration could lead to other complications, which can result in death.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists issued guidance in June, advising patients to skip these drugs on the day of surgery and hold off on weekly injections for one week prior to any sedation procedures.
But some anesthesiologists say that isn’t enough, and they suggest patients stop the drugs for three weeks before anesthesia. The advice was published on July 19 in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia, where these doctors explained that stopping the drug for three weeks would clear out about 88% of the drug from someone’s system. Patients would then have emptier stomachs after a fast, making sedation safer.
This is not the only potential unknown side effect related to drugs like Ozempic. Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed claiming the two drugmakers behind Ozempic and Mounjaro – Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, respectively — failed to adequately warn patients about the possible risk of severe stomach problems as a side effect. The Louisiana woman who filed the suit claims she was “severely injured” after taking the two drugs and is the first person to claim the drugs can cause gastrointestinal injuries.
There is also a potential risk of thyroid tumors and cancer associated with Ozempic, according to studies done with rodents. Also, available data show that most people who stop these drugs recover most of the weight they lose within three to five years, and some people may even gain back more weight than they initially lost on the drugs. Moreover, there’s some concern about the type of weight people are losing. Dr. Peter Attia, for example, explained this risk on his YouTube channel.
“Almost, without exception, every single patient we’ve put on these drugs have lost muscle mass, and they’ve lost it at a rate that alarms me,” Dr. Attia said. “Let’s be clear: If you lost 10 pounds of muscle and 10 pounds of fat, to go from 180 to 200 [pounds], would that be good? Well, only if you were more than 50% body fat at the outset, otherwise you’ve disproportionately lost muscle to fat. In fact you’ve gotten fatter since you’ve lost weight. That’s not what we want.”
Still, the number of people using these drugs is skyrocketing. There are already predictions that the market worth of obesity pills could reach $200 billion over the next several years.