The Side Effects of Semaglutide and How to Manage Them

doctor talking to patient about semaglutide side effects

Semaglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist that has shown promise in diabetes management as well as weight management. By acting on the body’s GLP-1 receptors, it not only regulates blood sugar levels but also appetite, leading to significant weight loss in many individuals.

While it has produced results, it is important to recognize that no medication is without potential side effects. An informed approach is vital, and understanding these semaglutide side effects is the first step to managing them.

Understanding Semaglutide Side Effects

Semaglutide, while offering promising benefits, can come with its share of side effects. It is important that you are aware of the common side effects of semaglutide as well as the less common and potentially serious.

Common Side Effects of Semaglutide

The most common side effects are only reported in ≥5% of patients, but often enough to warrant noting. While these side effects are generally mild to moderate and often fade over time, they can impact an individual’s experience with the medication.

Semaglutide’s common side effects are nearly all gastrointestinal in nature and include:

Semaglutide Side Effects: nausea

Nausea is one of the most frequently reported side effects associated with Semaglutide. Many patients experience mild to moderate nausea, especially during the initial weeks of treatment.

The majority of instances were during dosage escalation. 

Semaglutide Side Effects: vomiting 

Some individuals may experience vomiting, particularly in the early stages of Semaglutide use.

The majority of instances were during dosage escalation. 

Semaglutide Side Effects: diarrhea

Diarrhea is another common side effect, often occurring as the body adjusts to Semaglutide.

The majority of instances were during dosage escalation. 

Semaglutide Side Effects: abdominal pain 

Abdominal discomfort or pain can occur as the body adapts to Semaglutide. It is usually mild and temporary, but if it persists or worsens, consult a healthcare provider.

Semaglutide Side Effects: constipation

Semaglutide can slow down the movement of food through the digestive system and slow the emptying of the stomach, which can lead to constipation. This may not be as temporary as the other side effects.

Semaglutide Side Effects: headache

Some patients may experience mild to moderate headaches as a side effect of Semaglutide.

Semaglutide Side Effects: fatigue

Fatigue as a semaglutide side effect seems to be dependent on the medication being taken. It’s reported in less than 5% of Ozempic users and had no reports in Rybesus users, but affected 11% of Wegovy users.

Less Common Side Effects of Semaglutide

Some side effects are less common, but still considered mild to moderate.

Semaglutide Side Effects: hypoglycemia

While not common, Semaglutide can lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), especially if used in combination with other diabetes medications that can lower blood sugar. This occurred in about ≤1.5% of individuals.

Semaglutide Side Effects: hair loss

Semaglutide itself does not cause hair loss. It was not reported in any of the original clinical trials of Ozempic. Hair loss can be a side effect of rapid weight loss, though. Rapid weight loss can cause a condition called Telogen effluvium (TE), which causes non-scarring hair loss.

Semaglutide Side Effects: depression

Depression can occur in a small number of semaglutide users. This is not uncommon with GLP-1 RAs . Symptoms occur about one month after beginning semaglutide injections.

Semaglutide Immediate Side Effects vs Long-Term

Semaglutide can produce both immediate and long-term side effects. Immediate side effects of Semaglutide typically occur shortly after starting the medication or shortly after each injection.

Immediate side effects tend to be short-lived, usually resolving within the initial stages of treatment. They can include:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain)
  • Injection site reactions
  • Headaches

Semaglutide long-term side effects tend to develop or persist over an extended period of medication use. They may become more noticeable after several months or even years of treatment.

Long-term side effects of semaglutide include constipation and some of the more serious side effects.

Serious Semaglutide Side Effects & Risks

While Semaglutide is generally considered safe and effective for weight loss and diabetes management, it’s essential to be aware of potentially serious side effects.

Semaglutide Side Effects: cancer

There is a risk of developing thyroid C-cell tumors, including medullary thyroid carcinoma. Studies are still being done on humans to determine the extent of this risk.

Semaglutide Side Effects: pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis has been reported with semaglutide and other GLP-1 RAs. Symptoms include persistent severe abdominal pain, sometimes radiating to the back with or without vomiting.

Semaglutide Side Effects: gallbladder disease

Semaglutide has been associated with an increased occurrence of cholelithiasis and cholecystitis, or acute gallbladder disease. In placebo-controlled trials, cholelithiasis was reported in 1.5% and 0.4% for Ozempic users and 3.8% of Wegovy users.

Semaglutide Side Effects: hypoglycemia

Semaglutide users who are also taking an insulin secretagogue (e.g. sulfonylurea) or insulin have an increased risk of hypoglycemia. This was reported in 6.2% of Wegovy users in placebo-controlled trials.

Semaglutide Side Effects: kidney injury

There have been some postmarketing reports of both acute kidney injury and worsening chronic renal failure in GLP-1 RAs. Those who suffer from gastrointestinal side effects severely enough to lead to volume depletion are at higher risk.

Duration of Semaglutide Side Effects

Side effects of semaglutide, particularly the common ones, usually manifest shortly after initiating treatment. In most cases, these side effects become noticeable within the first few days to weeks of starting the medication. These tend to be short lived, but you may see a reemergence if you change your dosage.

Typically, the common side effects dissipate once your body adjusts, which takes anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months.

Do semaglutide side effects go away? The more common and less serious side effects usually dissipate quickly after the discontinuation of semaglutide. The more serious side effects will require treatment and may not be relieved as immediately. 

If you have any concerns, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Managing Semaglutide Side Effects

While the side effects only impact a small number of users, if you are one of the unfortunate few, there is little you can do to stop them. You can take steps to manage them, though.

If any of these symptoms become severe, persistent, or significantly impact your daily life, consult your healthcare provider promptly.

Fatigue, depression, and headache

Fatigue, depression, and headaches can be side effects of Semaglutide use. They are generally easy to manage without stopping use. Here are some tips and strategies to help you manage these symptoms:

Fatigue: maintain a balanced diet and make sure to stay hydrated if you’re experiencing fatigue—or even if you’re not. You’ll also want to ensure you get sufficient and quality sleep by sticking to a consistent sleep schedule.

Depression: this side effect is a little more serious as it can lead to other issues. Talk to a therapist, counselor, or support group if you experience symptoms of depression. Discuss your medications, including Semaglutide, with your healthcare provider. Sometimes, they may adjust the dosage or recommend alternative medications if depression persists.

If you experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide, seek immediate medical attention.

Headache: Stay hydrated and relaxed and adjust your caffeine intake if you’re experiencing headaches. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also be used to manage headaches.

Hair loss and gastrointestinal issues

While hair loss is not a common side effect, gastrointestinal symptoms are. Here are some tips to help you cope with these challenges:

Hair loss: unfortunately, those suffering Telogen effluvium (TE) can do little to stop it. You can only try to care for your hair as it happens and work to recover it. In the meantime:

  • Use a mild, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner
  • Avoid excessive heat styling or tight hairstyles that can stress the hair follicles

Gastrointestinal issues: the best way to counteract the gastrointestinal symptoms is to make dietary changes. First and foremost, stay hydrated. Maintain a balanced diet and opt for smaller, more frequent meals. Digestive enzyme supplements may help manage gastrointestinal symptoms, but you should consult your doctor before adding these to your diet.

Semaglutide Injection Site Reactions

Reactions, such as redness, swelling, or pain, can occasionally occur with semaglutide injections. To try and minimize these symptoms, there are some tips and tricks you can try:

  • Follow proper injection procedure
    • Always start with clean hands and a sanitized injection site
    • Insert the needle at a 90-degree angle to the skin, but avoid going too deep
    • Administer the medication slowly and steadily to minimize tissue trauma
  • Try rotating the injection site. Rotate injection sites to avoid overusing a specific area
  • Apply an ice pack or a warm compress before injection to numb the area and reduce pain

If redness, swelling, or pain at the injection site is severe, persistent, or accompanied by signs of infection (e.g., pus, increasing warmth, or fever), consult your healthcare provider immediately

When To Seek Medical Advice

Semaglutide users should have consistent communication with their healthcare provider. And, it is important that you maintain open and honest communication with your healthcare team about your symptoms, side effects, and concerns.

In the event of severe side effects or complications, do not hesitate to seek immediate medical advice. Prompt intervention is crucial in these situations.

Most side effects are mild and only need to be noted during your check ins, but there are some symptoms that require more immediate intervention. If you experience one of the following, reach out to your doctor immediately:

  • Sudden, severe abdominal pain, often radiating to the back
  • High fever or chills
  • Signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat, and hives
  • Unrelenting or intense diarrhea, especially if it leads to dehydration or is accompanied by blood in stool
  • Persistent vomiting causing dehydration or electrolyte imbalances
  • Severe abdominal pain that is unmanageable
  • Persistent, severe low blood sugar levels that do not respond to typical interventions
  • Severe depression, mood swings, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Lose Weight Safely With Semaglutide

By being aware of potential semaglutide side effects, understanding how to manage them, and maintaining open communication with your healthcare provider, you can maximize the advantages of Semaglutide while minimizing any associated risks.

Your well-being and health are top priorities. Don’t let the desire for the end result put your health at risk.

If you’re ready to start your weight loss journey with semaglutide, connect with a licensed physician through Heally today!


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