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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 5 minutes read

Ozempic is a type 2 diabetes medication that can be used to manage the blood glucose (sugar) levels of people with type 2 diabetes. In this article we explain what Ozempic is, who it is suitable for, how it works and possible side effects.

What is Ozempic?

Ozempic is the brand name of the drug semaglutide - a type of medication known as a GLP-1 analogue. This is also known as an incretin mimetic and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) as a treatment for people with type 2 diabetes.

It is taken as a once-weekly injection to help regulate and manage blood glucose (sugar) levels which it does in three ways:

-        it increases the amount of the sugar-regulating hormone insulin in the body

-        it reduces the production of the chemical glucagon that is produced by the pancreas gland; because glucagon increases the amount of sugar in the body, this causes blood sugar levels to fall

-        it works on the stomach to slow the passage of food through it, so that sugar in a meal takes longer to get into the bloodstream

Ozempic can be used on its own, or in combination with other medications used to treat type 2 diabetes. There is also a tablet form of semaglutide available, called Rybelsus, that is taken every day rather than once a week.

Who is Ozempic recommended for?

Ozempic is recommended in the treatment of people with type 2 diabetes. It is not used in the treatment of people who do not have diabetes, or in those people who may be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is not used in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Ozempic can also be used to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes and known heart disease.

Although Ozempic is not a weight loss drug, using it may help you lose weight which is beneficial to health in type 2 diabetes.

How is Ozempic used?

Ozempic is an injection that you give yourself once a week and is injected under the skin (subcutaneously) of your stomach (abdomen), thigh, or upper arm. It is important that you do not inject it into a muscle (intramuscularly) or vein (intravenously), and you should change the site of injection every week - do not use the same site for each injection.

The starting dose of Ozempic is 0.25 mg once a week for the first 4 weeks. At week 5 your doctor will increase the dose to 0.5 mg once a week. The maximum dose is 2 mg once a week.

You should take Ozempic once a week on the same day every week, and you can take it with or without food. You may change the day of the week that you use Ozempic if your last dose was taken 2 or more days before. If you forget to take your Ozempic, take the missed dose as soon as possible within 5 days after the missed dose. If more than 5 days have passed, then skip your missed dose altogether and take your next dose on your regular scheduled day.

Never share your Ozempic pen with other people, even if the needle has been changed, as you may give other people an infection or be at risk of catching one from them.

Can anyone use Ozempic?

Ozempic should only be used in adults with type 2 diabetes to improve blood sugar levels, along with diet and exercise, and to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes and known heart disease. It should not be used in the treatment of type 1 diabetes, or if:

●      you or any of your family have ever had a type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) or if you have an endocrine system condition called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2)

●      you have had a serious allergic reaction to semaglutide or any of the ingredients in Ozempic

Before using Ozempic for the first time you should also tell your doctor if you have any other medical conditions, including if you:

●      have or have had problems with your pancreas or kidneys

●      have type 2 diabetes and a history of diabetic retinopathy

●      are pregnant or plan to become pregnant (you should stop using Ozempic 2 months before you plan to become pregnant)

●      are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed; it is not known if Ozempic passes into your breast milk

If you are taking other medications to treat diabetes, make sure your doctor is aware of this - because Ozempic slows stomach emptying it can affect medicines that need to pass through the stomach quickly.

Does Ozempic have side effects?

All medicines have the potential to cause side effects and Ozempic is no different. The most common ones that may be experienced - that affect more than 1 in 10 people taking it - include nausea, diarrhea, and low blood sugar levels. Fewer than 1 in 10 people using Ozempic experience side effects such as constipation, vomiting, indigestion and abdominal pain, dizziness, and tiredness.

Other possible side effects include pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas gland), gallbladder problems, allergic reactions, and low mood. If you have diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) and are using insulin, then Ozempic may lead to a worsening of your vision which may require treatment. If this occurs, inform your doctor.

How much weight loss can occur with Ozempic?

Although Ozempic is not a weight-loss drug, one of its effects is that some people taking it may experience some weight loss. In clinical trials the amount of weight lost was up to 6 kg (about 13 lbs.). However, there is evidence that people regain weight when they stop using Ozempic, so it is important to always continue with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

How can I get access to Ozempic?

To receive an Ozempic prescription from your doctor, you need to meet the following criteria:

●      have poorly controlled type 2 diabetes despite diet and exercise

●      have type 2 diabetes and established cardiovascular disease

●      have no diagnosis or family history of thyroid cancer

●      have no diagnosis or family history of pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis

You can also purchase Ozempic online from registered and regulated clinics and pharmacies in the US, where purchasing Ozempic for weight loss is considered ‘off-label’ medication use. This means that if a medicine meets the acceptable standards of efficacy, safety, and quality, it can be prescribed for use outside of what it’s been approved for.

Unfortunately, now, there is a global shortage of Ozempic. This means that some people with type 2 diabetes who may benefit from using it are currently unable to access it. If this is the case with you, there are several alternative GLP-1 analogue treatments available that work in similar ways to Ozempic and your doctor can advise you as to which of these may be suitable

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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