Our Head of Care Douglas Twenefour clarifies the main points to be aware of with Wegovy, including who it is recommended for and how it works.
What is Wegovy?
Wegovy is a brand name for semaglutide, a GLP-1 analogue. It is a weight loss drug manufactured by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.
NICE issued guidelines this year recommending Wegovy be prescribed to people who have a particular BMI (usually 30kg/m2 and over) and at least one weight-related health condition.
NICE recommends that Wegovy can be prescribed to people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes as an option for weight management within a specialist weight management service. This will depend on a person’s personal circumstances, and factors such as their current treatment plan and risk of side effects.
On 7 June, 2023, the Department of Health announced a two-year pilot to tackle obesity, which will explore how Wegovy can be prescribed outside of specialist weight management services, which are largely hospital based.
The government says the NICE recommendations mean that around 35,000 people will have access to Wegovy, but to make it available to more people who could be eligible, the pilot will explore how GPs could safely offer Wegovy, and how the NHS can provide support in the community or digitally.
How significant is this government pilot?
Supporting people to lose weight is key to preventing type 2 diabetes and, with cases of this serious, life-changing condition rising every year, we welcome the government’s commitment to exploring new ways of providing this tailored support.
This funding is a positive step towards helping more people gain access to specialist weight management services but it should not be seen as the only solution.
Prevention policies which stop people developing obesity are vital, which is why the government must implement its stalled obesity strategy in full and without further delay, including the restrictions on junk food marketing.
What are the differences between the different semaglutide brand names?
Semaglutide is also licensed under the brand names Ozempic and Rybelsus, which are recommended by NICE and available on the NHS for managing blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Ozempic and Rybelsus are recommended to manage blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes
- Wegovy is recommended for weight management in people with or without type 2 diabetes.
Wegovy and weight loss
Wegovy can lead to weight loss because it is designed to suppress appetite so you eat less. It mimics the action of a gut hormone called GLP-1, which is released after eating, and it slows down the movement of food in your gut so you stay full for longer.
The amount of weight you lose on Wegovy would depend on your personal circumstances, the support you receive and how long you are on the medication for.
In a major study, the STEP 1 clinical trial, people on the maximum dose lost 12% more of their body weight compared to those who were not on the medication. Crucially, both groups received advice to reduce their calorie intake, and increase their physical activity levels, which shows the importance of making those changes to get the best out of any weight loss medications.
Like other weight loss medications, there is evidence of weight regain when people stop using Wegovy so it is important to continue to receive support in making changes to your diet and physical activity levels.
Does Wegovy have side effects?
Nausea is a common side effect when first starting Wegovy, while other side effects can include constipation and diarrhoea.
If you have diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) and are using insulin, then Wegovy may lead to a worsening of your vision, and this may require treatment. Tell your doctor if you have diabetic eye disease or if you experience eye problems during treatment with this medication.
More information about the side effects will be contained in the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) which comes in the box of the medication.
It is important that a person takes individual advice from their healthcare team before starting a new prescription of Wegovy, and reports any side effects.
What should I do if I want to be prescribed weight loss medication?
Some blood glucose lowering medications for people with type 2 diabetes such as GLP-1 analogues and SGLT2 inhibitors can lead to weight loss, but these are not weight loss drugs.
There are currently two other weight loss medications available on the NHS: Xenical (generic name Orlistat) which is a capsule, and Saxenda which is a brand name for liraglutide, a type of GLP-1 analogue that is injected daily.
Orlistat works by limiting the amount of fat your body absorbs from the food you eat. There is another brand name for Orlistat which is called alli and this can be bought without prescription.
It is important to speak to your GP, nurse or dietitian to discuss weight management options, including weight loss medication, that may be helpful for you.
More information and support
- Ring our helpline with any questions or concerns on 0345 123 2399
- Learn more about treating diabetes with tablets and medication.