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Instruments sit on a table in an operating room on June 15, 2023, in Jackson, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Pricey Weight Loss Drug Appears to Also Reduce Cardiovascular Events

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The popular weight loss and diabetes medication Wegovy now appears to have significant heart health benefits. However, the prescription drug is out of reach for most Americans. 

Portions of a new study released by drugmaker Novo Nordisk the company that manufactures the drug Wegovy, show that the weight loss medication lowers the risk of events like stroke and heart attack. Researchers found a 20 percent decrease in these cardiovascular events over a five-year period in people with heart disease who are overweight and obese. 

Wegovy is one of a fairly new type of drug called a GLP-1 agonist, which contains the active ingredient semaglutide. Another drug in this class is the popular drug Ozempic. They are available by prescription only for type-2 diabetes and weight loss.

slider img 2The weight loss results from these drugs are impressive, particularly among those who were unable to drop their unwanted pounds before taking this type of drug. Obesity medicine physician Jennifer Ashton, M.D. told ABC News these drugs can represent new hope for the roughly half of all Americans who have obesity.  However, the people who might benefit from these drugs may not be able to experience their benefits at this time. 

"The fact of the matter is there's a lot of factors that go into the conditions of obesity and overweight," she said, "It's a complex, chronic condition. It's not as simple as eating less and moving more. So they do have a major role. But insurance does not oftentimes cover them, they're incredibly expensive, and they have to be managed by someone who's familiar with this class of medications."

The Wegovy study results are the first to show a weight loss drug can reduce heart disease, the number one cause of death in the United States. The question remains whether the mechanics of the drug, or the weight loss itself, led to improved heart health. The study of over 17,000 people has not been reviewed by other scientists yet.

It's too early to say whether more insurance companies might begin covering the roughly $1,300 a month cost of Wegovy if there's evidence it can lead to medical benefits beyond weight loss.  

"It's impossible to evaluate the efficacy and long-term effectiveness of a prescription drug based solely on a drug manufacturer's press release," said David Allen, a spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans.

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GLP-1 agonists mimic the hormone glucagon-like peptide1, which stimulates the body to produce more insulin. The drugs are often delivered through weekly injections and can slow digestion. Some common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, and some patients reportedly experience severe reactions. 

"It is absolutely brutal," emergency medicine physician Darien Sutton, M.D. told ABC News, "Patients often come in with severe dehydration, and, many of them, their symptoms are so difficult to control, they have to be admitted to the hospital."

A 44-year-old Louisiana woman who reportedly lost 150 pounds after using Ozempic and another drug Mounjaro, is suing the makers of both drugs for failing to warn of the risk of severe gastrointestinal problems that she claims to have experienced. 

"Her problems have been so severe that she's been to the emergency room multiple times," her attorney Paul Pennock told ABC News. 

Meanwhile, European health experts are reportedly investigating reports of the GLP-1 agonists possibly causing suicidal thoughts, according to Drugwatch.

Health experts say when deciding whether to take a prescription medication, patients should discuss with their doctor the drug's potential risks versus its benefits. In the case of weight loss drugs, the benefits of dropping just ten pounds can lead to improved blood pressure, less joint pain, and a lower risk of serious health problems like gallbladder disease, cancer, and even mental health disorders. 

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