Popular Weight-Loss Drugs May Carry an Unexpected Risk

Anesthesiologists say patients on them may not have empty stomachs needed for unrelated surgeries
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 13, 2023 8:27 AM CDT
Popular Weight-Loss Drugs May Carry an Unexpected Risk
Instruments sit on a table in an operating room in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Patients who take blockbuster drugs like Wegovy or Ozempic for weight loss may face life-threatening complications if they need surgery or other procedures that require empty stomachs for anesthesia, per the AP. Anesthesiologists in the US and Canada say they've seen growing numbers of patients on the weight-loss drugs who inhaled food and liquid into their lungs while sedated because their stomachs were still full—even after following standard instructions to stop eating for six to eight hours in advance. The drugs can slow digestion so much that it puts patients at increased risk for the problem, called pulmonary aspiration, which can cause dangerous lung damage, infections, and even death, said Dr. Ion Hobai, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"This is such a serious sort of potential complication that everybody who takes this drug should know about it," said Hobai, who was among the first to flag the issue. Nearly 6 million prescriptions for the class of drugs that include Wegovy and Ozempic were written between January and May in the US for people who don't have diabetes, according to Komodo Health, a health care technology company. The drugs induce weight loss by mimicking the actions of hormones, found primarily in the gut, that kick in after people eat. They also target signals between the gut and the brain that control appetite and feelings of fullness, and by slowing how fast the stomach empties.

In June, the American Society of Anesthesiologists issued guidance advising patients to skip daily weight-loss medications on the day of surgery and hold off on weekly injections for a week before any sedation procedures. Dr. Michael Champeau, the group's president, said the action was based on anecdotal reports of problems—including aspiration—from around the country. It's not clear how many patients taking the anti-obesity drugs may be affected by the issue. But because the consequences can be so dire, Hobai and a group of colleagues decided to speak out. Writing in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia, they called for the drug to be stopped for even longer—about three weeks before sedation. (A new study suggests Wegovy may help ward off heart problems.)

(Read more Wegovy stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.