Blog/What Are the Side Effects of Semaglutide?
Jennie Stanford, MD | 6/4/2024 | 3 min read

What Are the Side Effects of Semaglutide?

Side effects associated with semaglutide use

man showing discomfort and refusing a spaghetti dinner because of lack of appetite

If you’re curious about semaglutide for weight loss, but nervous about potential side effects, knowing what to expect can help you make a more informed treatment decision. From most common to rare, we’ll dive into each side effect and provide strategies on how to reduce side effects and improve semaglutide tolerability.

What is semaglutide?

Semaglutide, which has the brand names of Ozempic® and Wegovy®, is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist that helps achieve significant weight loss. GLP-1 receptor agonists work by increasing the effects of a GLP-1, which is a neuroendocrine hormone made in the intestines in response to food intake.

GLP-1 promotes weight loss and helps reduce blood glucose by directing it to organs and tissues to be used for energy. GLP-1 also slows gastric emptying. Delayed gastric emptying helps sustain fullness over time, increasing the time between meals and lowering appetite. This often leads to a reduced calorie intake overall.

Side effects of semaglutide

Semaglutide can cause many different adverse effects, some of which are mild, while others are potentially more severe.

Mild side effects

  • Gastrointestinal upset occurs most frequently. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation are common with semaglutide treatment. In some cases, these are severe enough to discontinue treatment. 

  • Decreased appetite is a notable side effect of GLP-1 receptor agonists, but it is expected and necessary to achieve the desired effects. Decreased appetite usually results in less calorie intake, which supports the overall goals of improved blood glucose and weight loss.

  • Injection site reactions can occur with injectable semaglutide. Redness, pain and swelling at the injection site may occur, but it is usually temporary, resolving within 1-2 days.

More severe side effects

  • Semaglutide can increase the risk of pancreatitis, but this is rare. Monitoring for symptoms of pancreatitis is important, as pancreatitis can be severe and may cause serious complications if not promptly treated. Signs and symptoms may include severe abdominal pain that radiates to the back, nausea, and vomiting. Semaglutide should not be used if you have had pancreatitis in the past.

  • Hypoglycemia can occur with semaglutide treatment, especially if semaglutide is taken in combination with other diabetes medications that lower blood glucose, such as insulin, thiazolidinediones or sulfonylureas. Symptoms of hypoglycemia may include fatigue, sleepiness, mental fogginess and shakiness. Hypoglycemia can have devastating complications (loss of consciousness, coma and seizures) if it is not corrected quickly.

  • Acute kidney injury can occur with semaglutide treatment, noted in a very small number of patients with preexisting kidney disease. Semaglutide should be used with caution in patients with chronic kidney disease.

  • Acute cholecystitis can occur as a result of weight loss and reduced gallbladder emptying. Symptoms of acute cholecystitis may include pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, nausea or vomiting after eating high-fat foods.

  • Semaglutide is associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer of a specific type, called medullary thyroid carcinoma. It should not be used if you have a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma or multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2.

Due to there being side-effects associated with the use of most GLP-1 medications, it’s very important that you meet with a licensed provider and provide a complete medical history. This allows the provider to spot any comorbidities (high-risk markers) and offer medication or treatment alternatives to decrease the chances of any severe side-effects.

Managing and minimizing side effects

It is possible to effectively manage the side effects of GLP-1 receptor agonists and improve their tolerability. 

  • Gastrointestinal upset can be reduced by starting treatment at a low dose and titrating (increasing) the dose up slowly.

  • Eating smaller, more frequent, higher-fiber meals can also help improve digestion.

  • Injection site reactions can be prevented by rotating injection sites and using proper administration techniques. 

  • Following the prescribed regimen of semaglutide with close monitoring by a healthcare professional is an important strategy to reduce side effects and improve tolerance.

  • Having regular follow-up appointments with a knowledgeable healthcare professional helps monitor weight, laboratory results and weight trends to ensure the effectiveness and tolerability of semaglutide. 

GLP-1 injections can offer incredible weight loss results, but they can have notable side effects and are not the best treatment for everyone. Understanding the potential side effects of semaglutide and what to watch out for will allow you to recognize when side effects occur. Maintaining open communication between you and your healthcare professional helps you remain consistent with semaglutide treatment and promotes better weight loss success. 

Interested in learning more about semaglutide for weight loss?

Hi! We’re Agile Telehealth and our network of licensed, pre-vetted clinicians are here to answer any question you have about semaglutide for weight loss. During our no-cost, qualification and approval process, we run through your medical history and weight loss goals to make sure a semaglutide treatment is right for you. Then, we provide ongoing support throughout your treatment to ensure you see the best weight loss success. It’s just $349/mo at the time your prescription is written and includes visits, labs and meds (we never charge an additional medication cost, ever).  

Interested in learning more about our weight loss program? Check it out here!