Prescription weight-loss medication
Losing weight requires a healthy diet and regular exercise. But in certain situations, prescription weight-loss medication may help. Keep in mind, though, that weight-loss medication is meant to be used along with diet, exercise and behavior changes, not instead of them. If you don’t make these other changes in your life, medication is unlikely to work. Your doctor may recommend weight-loss medication if other methods of weight loss haven’t worked for you and you meet one of the following criteria:
- Other methods of weight loss haven’t worked for you
- Your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or greater
- Your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 27 and you also have medical complications of obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or sleep apnea
Prescription weight-loss medications your doctor may prescribe include:
- Orlistat (Xenical): Orlistat is a weight-loss medication that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for long-term use in adults and children 12 and older. This medication blocks the digestion and absorption of fat in your stomach and intestines. Unabsorbed fat is eliminated in the stool. Average weight loss with orlistat is about 5 to 7 pounds (2.3 to 3.2 kilograms) more than you can get from diet and exercise after one or two years of taking the medication.
Side effects associated with orlistat include oily and frequent bowel movements, bowel urgency, and gas. These side effects can be minimized as you reduce fat in your diet. Because orlistat blocks absorption of some nutrients, take a multivitamin while taking orlistat to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
The FDA has also approved a reduced-strength version of orlistat (Alli) that’s sold over-the-counter, without a prescription. Alli is not approved for children. This medication works the same as prescription-strength orlistat and is meant only to supplement — not replace — a healthy diet and regular exercise.
- Lorcaserin (Belviq): Lorcaserin is a long-term weight-loss drug approved by the FDA for adults in 2012. It works by affecting chemicals in your brain that help decrease your appetite and make you feel full, so you eat less. Your doctor will carefully monitor your weight loss while taking lorcaserin. If you don’t lose about 5 percent of your total body weight within 12 weeks of taking lorcaserin, it’s unlikely the drug will work for you and the medication should be stopped.
Side effects of lorcaserin include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, dry mouth and constipation. Rare but serious side effects include a chemical imbalance (serotonin syndrome), suicidal thoughts, psychiatric problems, and problems with memory or comprehension. Pregnant women shouldn’t take lorcaserin.
- Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia): This weight-loss medication is a combination drug approved by the FDA for long-term use in adults. Qsymia combines phentermine, a weight-loss drug prescribed for short-term use, with topiramate, a medication that’s used to control seizures. Your doctor will monitor your weight loss while taking the drug. If you don’t lose at least 3 percent of your body weight within 12 weeks of starting treatment, your doctor may suggest either stopping use of Qsymia or increasing your dose, depending on your condition.
Side effects include increased heart rate, tingling of hands and feet, insomnia, dizziness, dry mouth and constipation. Serious but rare side effects include suicidal thoughts, problems with memory or comprehension, sleep disorders and changes to your vision. Pregnant women shouldn’t take Qsymia. Qsymia increases the risk of birth defects.
- Phentermine (Adipex-P, Suprenza): Phentermine is a weight-loss medication for short-term use (three months) in adults. Using weight-loss medications short-term doesn’t usually lead to long-term weight loss. While some health care providers prescribe phentermine for long-term use, few studies have evaluated its safety and weight-loss results long term.
You need close medical monitoring while taking a prescription weight-loss medication. Also, keep in mind that a weight-loss medication may not work for everyone. If the medication does work, its effects tend to level off after six months of use like any other method of weight loss. You may need to take a weight-loss medication indefinitely. When you stop taking a weight-loss medication, you’re likely to regain much or all of the weight you lost.