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Medical Experts Reveal Facts About Medications for Weight Loss

Tim Boyer's picture
Medication for weight loss

Medical experts identify who should take medications for weight loss and reveal one fact about prescription weight loss medications that many people do not know about, but should before deciding to go on any type of weight loss medication treatment.


In the current issue of the major medical journal JAMA, MD Jill Jin tells readers that prescription medications can help with weight loss in certain groups of people, but that there is no “magic” pill for weight loss. Rather, as has been recommended by many health experts repeatedly, “Medications for weight loss work best when combined with a lifestyle treatment program, and such medications require close monitoring by a doctor.”

The following is a summary of her advice from the medical community on who should take weight loss meds; how weight loss meds should be used; and, what your expectations should be when prescribed pills for weight loss.

Who Should Take Weight Loss Meds

According to Dr. Jin, while the overweight and obese should adopt lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy, reduced-calorie diet and increasing their level of exercise as the first steps toward managing their weight, it is a fact many people have a harder time losing weight than others do, and therefore need some supplemental help.

That supplemental help has been proven with some prescription weight loss medications and is usually indicated for those who are obese, cannot lose weight and have other health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, high blood pressure, or obstructive sleep apnea. Again, however, the medications should be used in conjunction with the aforementioned lifestyle changes in order to achieve weight loss results.

How Weight Loss Meds Should Be Used

Dr. Jin writes that although there are several medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for long-term treatment (more than 3 months), that all of these medications do have side effects requiring that a patient needs to be monitored while on the drugs.

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The rule of thumb in using these medications is that if a patient does not lose at least 5% of his or her starting weight after taking a full dose of the medication for 3 months, then the medication should be stopped, and another course of treatment looked into.

The problem with prolonged use of some weight loss medications is that while it may help solve one health problem, it could create another such as an increase in pulse or blood pressure and should be used with caution in patients with a history of heart disease.

And here’s the kicker: while we want to lose weight for a healthier heart and stroke prevention, Dr. Jin tells readers that, “No obesity medication has been shown to lower risk of developing heart disease or stroke.”

What Your Expectations Should Be When Prescribed Pills for Weight Loss

As a last bit of advice on what to expect when you are prescribed pills for weight loss, Dr. Jin tells readers that contrary to exaggerated claims typically seen advertised, that in reality the amount of weight loss is less than what many people expect—about 5% to 10% of the starting weight on average. And, that the results do vary between one person and another on the same meds.

Furthermore, patients prescribed weight loss drugs need to know that obesity medications do not work after they are stopped, and so gradual weight regain is likely after discontinuing the drug—especially if the aforementioned lifestyle changes of calorie restriction and exercise are not continually followed.

What’s Next?

As a continuation of this JAMA Patient Page series, a second installment in the future will discuss specific medications used for weight loss.

Until then, for more information about weight loss meds, here are 8 OTC diet pills you need to know about for successful weight loss; how to lose weight the smart way with Dr. Oz’s new diet pill guide; and, why Consumer Reports advises against taking diet pills.

Reference: JAMA “Medications for Weight Loss: Indications and Usage” June 2, 2015, Vol 313, No. 21; Jill Jin, MD, MPH