Americans Seek Solutions as Obesity Medication Dilemma Unfolds

Concerns rise among users of obesity drugs like Wegovy as they grapple with the aftermath of treatment cessation

Millions of Americans who have experienced successful weight loss with popular obesity drugs, such as Wegovy, are now facing a new challenge: what happens when they stop taking them? Anxiety looms over the fear of regaining weight and reverting to old habits, especially as clinical trials indicate that patients who paused such medications often gained back most of the weight they had lost.

While some individuals remain hesitant, fearing the potential consequences of discontinuing the drugs, others are exploring a DIY approach, experimenting with strategies like stretching out doses, intermittent medication usage, or resuming treatment only when deemed necessary.

Donna Cooper, a 62-year-old resident of Front Royal, Virginia, who shed nearly 40 pounds in nine months using Wegovy alongside diet and exercise, sees the medication as a helpful aid. She states, “At some point, you have to come off of them. I don’t want to be on them forever.”

Recent data from the health technology company IQVIA reveals that over 3 million prescriptions for new obesity medications are dispensed monthly in the U.S. These medications include semaglutide, found in Ozempic and Wegovy, and tirzepatide, present in Mounjaro and Zepbound. However, adherence to these treatments is a challenge, with only 40% of patients who filled a Wegovy prescription in 2021 or 2022 still taking it a year later, according to a study published in the journal Obesity.

Doctors specializing in obesity stress that the condition is chronic and requires ongoing management, likening it to heart disease or high blood pressure. The injection drugs, such as Wegovy, work by mimicking hormones in the gut and brain to regulate appetite and feelings of fullness, and were designed to be taken continuously.

Despite professional guidance, some patients who achieved their weight goals with these drugs are seeking ways to discontinue usage. Dr. Amy Rothberg, an endocrinologist at the University of Michigan, notes that many patients want to step down or de-escalate their dose and eventually discontinue the medication.

Reasons for pausing the drugs vary, including side effects like nausea and constipation, holiday breaks, or a desire to avoid weekly shots indefinitely. Financial constraints or issues with insurance coverage and supply shortages have also led some to ration or halt doses.

Experts caution against the DIY approach, emphasizing that obesity affects the body’s energy processing and storage mechanisms, and discontinuing medication often results in the return of the disease. Symptoms such as increased thoughts of food, intense hunger, and reduced feelings of fullness are reported by those who cease medication.

While some patients find intermittent use tolerable, others experience severe side effects upon resuming the drugs or notice diminished effectiveness. The long-term effects of intermittent use remain unknown.

As individuals grapple with the decision to continue or discontinue obesity medications, the conversation surrounding effective weight management and the complexities of treating obesity takes center stage.

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