Chronic Weight Loss Medications: What They Are and What They Do

Updated on May 11, 2023


Health experts’ concerns over the continuous rise of global obesity rates have paved the way for the mainstream acceptance of medical weight loss interventions. With researchers predicting that half of the population will become overweight or obese by 2035, more and more healthcare providers now turn to chronic weight loss medications for help.

Despite this demand, many laypersons still lack the necessary understanding of them. This article explores the science behind weight loss medications and the most common ones doctors prescribe.

The truth behind chronic weight loss medications

Obesity affects over 70 million Americans and makes them more vulnerable to a multitude of health risks, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis. It is a layered condition influenced by several factors outside of diet and exercise, such as hormones, genes, and psychological well-being. Medical practitioners recognize these roadblocks and offer assistance towards better life quality through medical weight loss prescriptions. Such medications help even the weight loss playing field by regulating related factors like hormones. These medications are also paired with lifestyle programs to more sustainably address the obstacles that make losing weight harder. When taken correctly, these medications can help patients lose up to 15% of their starting weight.

Given how they affect the body, these weight-management medicines must be administered precisely. This is why they are only accessible when prescribed by an attending physician. Not everyone is eligible to take them, either, and a doctor must first determine if someone qualifies. The basis for qualification is the body mass index (BMI) scale, which compares an individual’s height to their weight. A BMI of 30 and above is considered obese and is entitled to medical weight loss interventions. Those with a BMI between 27-29.9 only fall under the overweight category, but having other weight-related conditions would make them eligible for medication as well. Age is also a determining factor, as some drugs are prohibited for children aged 11 and below.

These medication restrictions are enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Regarding weight loss medications, many claims have been made over the years about wonder products and diet pills, but only a handful have ever been approved as safe and effective by the FDA.

What are some of the most common weight loss medications

Listed below are some of the FDA-approved medications commonly prescribed today.


Most weight management medications were originally intended to treat other conditions. Naltrexone-Bupropion demonstrates this by combining two drugs meant to address mood disorders and vice addictions. These are extended-release tablets taken twice a day. That said, it is not recommended for some people prone to depressive states as it may heighten self-harm ideation and cause a spike in blood pressure.


Following a low-fat diet is required when using Orlistat. These come in capsule form and should be taken three times a day. They reduce calorie intake by targeting the gut and preventing fat absorption. Since its effects are mainly directed at the intestines, side effects can manifest as irregular bowel movements.


Liraglutide was invented for the management of diabetes. It regulates the appetite of users, which is also helpful for weight management. It is administered via injection once a day and is one of the rare drugs permitted for children ages 12 and above. Some users commonly complain about nausea, headache, and constipation.


Similarly, Semaglutide is used to control diabetes, but it is prescribed for more serious cases. In terms of weight loss, it works by inhibiting food cravings. Compared to Liraglutide’s daily administration, Semaglutide is injected once a week. However, it is only authorized for adults. Apart from nausea, other side effects include abdominal pain and fatigue.

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