Are Medications like Ozempic and Wegovy Good Treatments for Heart Disease? 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Peter Banitt, MD, FACC

The physical and financial costs for heart patients using semaglutides 

There is quite a bit of buzz about the connection between new weight loss medications and heart disease. This relatively new class of medications is glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1). GLP-1 meds include semaglutide, probably best known to consumers by the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy. Semaglutide has been shown to help people with diabetes lower their blood sugars and help people with obesity lose weight. 

In December 2023, a new study reported that in patients who had cardiovascular disease and obesity, but not diabetes, semaglutide was able to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death by 20%. This seems like a major improvement over current treatments. And while it is progress, the actual number was lowering risk from 8% in the placebo group to 6.5% in the treatment group – or only 1.5% absolute risk reduction. 

These new medications also come at a cost, both for side effects and the wallet. Five times as many people in the treatment group using semaglutide had GI side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Twice as many people in the treatment group had side effects so severe, they needed to stop taking the medication. That’s 1 out of 6 overall who had to stop taking it. The price is steep as well. Semaglutide could cost up to $1,000+ every month and is usually not covered by insurance for this use. 

Semaglutide meds such as Ozempic or Wegovy can help patients lose weight and slightly lower their risk of having a cardiovascular event, but due to the potential side effects and cost, these medications are definitely not first-line treatments for most people with cardiovascular disease. 

While semaglutides are not the solution for most heart patients, we continue to explore all emerging treatment options for our patients