Blog What is weight loss medication?
a woman standing on scales with a tape measure in the foreground.
Although improving your diet and exercising more regularly are the basics of weight loss, some people may require extra help when it comes to fighting obesity – this is where prescription weight loss medication comes in. 

As the name suggests, prescription weight loss medications are designed to help obese people lose weight. Intended to be used alongside (rather than instead of) low-calorie diets and regular physical exercise, these medications are typically prescribed to patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, and in particular those who also are dealing with additional health conditions related to weight, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

However, what are these medications? How do they work? And how safe are they? In this article, Access Doctor takes a deep dive into weight loss medications to help you decide if these drugs are a viable option for your weight loss journey.

Does weight loss medication work?

Yes, there is clinical evidence to suggest weight loss medication can be effective. However, before looking at the evidence, it is important to first understand that different weight loss medications work in different ways. Some, such as Orlistat pills (Xenical), work in your digestive system to block part of the fat in the food you eat from being fully digested, while others, such as Saxenda injections, suppress your appetite by acting on receptors in the brain, causing you to feel more full and less hungry.

When it comes to how effective these medications are, both types of medications have their merits. For example, clinical trials demonstrated that (when paired with a controlled diet and increased exercise) subjects were 50% more likely to lose weight when taking Orlistat when compared with people not taking any medication. Additionally, it was shown that those taking this drug were also more able to maintain weight loss. 

Similarly, when looking at Saxenda injections, studies made up of over 5,000 participants showed that superior weight loss was achieved among those using Saxenda (liraglutide) products when compared to those simply maintaining a controlled diet and carrying out additional exercise alone. In fact, more than twice as many people taking Saxenda achieved body weight loss of between five and 10% compared to the control group.

When might I consider a weight loss drug treatment?

As touched upon above, those considering weight loss drug treatments tend to be people who are fighting obesity but have failed to lose any significant weight through diet and exercise alone. After consulting your GP, you may be offered prescription weight loss medication if you meet one of the following criterion:

  • Your BMI is 30 or higher.
  • Your BMI is higher than 27 and you also live with a chronic medical condition linked to and/or made worse by obesity, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. 

It’s worth noting, however, that before deciding if you are suitable for a medication of this kind, your doctor, or another qualified medical professional, will consider all of your health conditions as well as your history. They will then go through the pros and cons of taking this type of drug. 

It’s also important to be aware that weight loss medications cannot be used by everyone. For example, if you are trying for a baby, are pregnant or are still breast-feeding, these drugs should not be used.

What are weight loss injections?

As mentioned above, weight loss injections, such as Saxenda, are prescription-only medications that, when combined with a calorie controlled diet and exercise, help those with obesity lose weight. Usually taken as a once-daily injection – not unlike an insulin injection – weight loss injections (or ‘skinny pens’) work by reducing your appetite and suppressing cravings for food. In turn, this makes you feel fuller quicker after eating, significantly reducing your typical calorie intake and thus helping you lose weight.

Are weight loss injections safe?

To put it simply, yes – when prescribed by an expert and taken following all necessary instructions, weight loss injections are considered a very safe and effective drug. Although liraglutide products (including Saxenda) may cause gastrointestinal side effects, these tend to be mild.

How much is the weight loss injection?

Weight loss injection treatments have become available to buy from pharmacies in the UK, however, you do require a valid prescription to purchase these medications. For this reason, the price of these drugs is set by the pharmacy you buy from, and can vary based on brand and quantity. However, as a rule of thumb, one 3ml Saxenda pen will usually cost around £65.00.   

You can order weight loss injections, as well as other weight loss treatments, through licensed online prescribers such as Access Doctor. This will involve a consultation with an independent prescriber registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) who will review your needs. If you are approved, your new weight loss treatment will be sent straight to your door. 

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