Ozempic and Its Effects on Different Age Groups
While an Ozempic prescription is becoming seemingly more popular, there is some question about how the medication affects certain demographics of people—particularly certain age groups. Ozempic, a prescription medication to treat type 2 diabetes, has garnered national attention for one of its side effects: weight loss. It’s become a viral talking point on TikTok with the term “Ozempic” receiving hundreds of millions of views, celebrities and influencers have praised the drug for its weight loss benefits, and an increase in demand even sparked a shortage in 2022. While the intended purpose is to help the pancreas produce insulin, Ozempic and other semaglutide drugs (like Wegovy) work by targeting receptors in the brain to reduce feelings of hunger and create a sensation 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, specifically older adults, isn’t well understood. Clinical trials and research of Ozempic haven’t included significant numbers of people ages 65 and older, and this leaves gaps in the available data that experts warn is cause for concern. This said, Ozempic has the potential to impact different age groups—not just older adults—differently.
While Ozempic is approved for those 18 and older, it should always be prescribed cautiously and in the context of somebody’s age, Rekha Kumar, MD, MS, Chief Medical Officer at the medically assisted weight loss program Found and a practicing endocrinologist in NYC told Health. “When we’re prescribing these [semaglutide] medicines, we should keep in mind what side effects and what other medical conditions may be present at a certain stage of life,” said Kumar. “We should also consider contraindications that may be related to stage of life.”
Contraindications for Ozempic are:
- Personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (a kind of thyroid cancer)
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (a hereditary condition associated with cancers of the thyroid, parathyroid, and the neuroendocrine system)
- A serious allergic reaction to semaglutide or any 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, MD, a clinical associate professor at the University of Southern California who practices at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles told Health. Dasgupta added that for individuals between the ages of 20 and 60, Ozempic for off-label, weight loss purposes might 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 that is available is not promising, Dasgupta said. In clinical trials of semaglutide, people 65 and older were more likely to experience gastrointestinal side effects like nausea and vomiting. They were also more likely to stop taking the medications because of side effects in general. Kumar emphasized that the use of Ozempic in patients older than 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’re having success with their weight loss journey,” said Kumar. “But something ominous could be going on in the background such as a new cancer or new inflammatory condition.” That’s part of why treating patients 60 and up can be tricky, she said. “We absolutely don’t want to assume that somebody’s weight loss success is only due to weight loss medication and overall weight loss program,” she reiterated.
Potential Side Effects
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 says there “are limited data with semaglutide use in pregnant women to inform a drug-associated risk for adverse developmental outcomes.” Based on studies in animals, “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 told Health that one of the most concerning side effects of Ozempic would be related to the warnings on the prescribing information. “This is a concern because it’s being prescribed so liberally by some doctors that it’s possible the patients aren’t giving a good medical history,” she said. Without a thorough medical history, a drug may be prescribed that can be dangerous for the patient. Other general side effects include fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, stomach 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 quick weight loss, not just with these medications,” said Dasgupta. “It’s mostly a cosmetic issue, but in some cases, it can cause discomfort or other problems.” To minimize this, Dasgupta recommends people try to lose weight gradually, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, exercise, hydration, and sleep. On rare occasions, Ozempic can cause more serious side effects, including inflammation of the pancreas, changes in vision, and serious allergic reactions.
Consulting a Medical Provider
For anyone interested in taking Ozempic or a similar medication, it’s important to speak with a medical provider about how the drug works and what benefits and side effects to expect based on your age and health. It’s also important to provide your doctor with a comprehensive medical history of you and your immediate family, to ensure that any diseases or risks can be mitigated. Kumar added that new alcohol use or binge drinking in certain age groups can be a concern with the medicine, 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 physicians about how they see the long-term plan for their weight loss program and the continued role medication,” said Kumar. “It is not black and white—there are in-between options for continued use of medication to maintain healthy weight loss.”