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Can weight-loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy cause blindness? – Firstpost

Can weight-loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy cause blindness? – Firstpost

Boxes of Ozempic and Wegovy made by Novo Nordisk are seen at a pharmacy in London, Britain March 8, 2024. Reuters

The world has long been concerned about obesity.

It has long been known for its connections to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

Initially presented as a simple fix for this issue, Ozempic and Wegovy quickly gained popularity as weight loss choices, even among Hollywood celebrities.

A new study published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology suggests that those who use these medications may be more susceptible to a rare type of blindness.

Doctors maintain that this shouldn’t stop people from using medications to manage their obesity or diabetes.

Let’s take a closer look.

Weight-loss drugs and blindness

Researchers at Mass General Brigham have found that patients taking semaglutide, marketed under the names Ozempic for diabetes or Wegovy for weight loss, had a higher chance of being diagnosed with a rare disorder called NAION than patients with obesity or diabetes who did not take the medicine.

Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION is a kind of stroke that results in sudden, painless loss of vision in one eye, as per CNN. The condition is relatively uncommon; up to 10 out of 100,000 persons in the general population may encounter it.

It is unclear exactly how semaglutide interacts with the eyes and the exact cause of NAION is not known either. The illness damages the optic nerve, yet vision loss frequently occurs without any prior warning.

Harvard University researchers examined data from 16,827 patients at the Mass Eye and Ear Hospital who underwent treatment over a six-year period for their study. 710 patients with type 2 diabetes were involved in the trial, and 194 of those patients were administered semaglutide. A total of 975 patients who were overweight or obese were included in the trial; 361 of them had been administered semaglutide.

The analysis revealed that individuals with diabetes had a four times higher chance of being diagnosed with NAION if they were taking prescription semaglutide. Those with obesity had a seven times higher chance of developing the illness if they were taking the drug. It was discovered that the risk was highest during the first year after being prescribed semaglutide.

The study, however, does not establish a link between semaglutide treatment and NAION. In addition, the small sample size of patients — roughly 100 cases on average were found annually — from a single speciality hospital may not correspond to a larger market.

According to Dr Joseph Rizzo, director of neuro-ophthalmology at Mass General Brigham’s Mass Eye and Ear, this study is the first to establish a connection between the rare illness and these diabetic and weight-loss medications.

“The use of these drugs has exploded throughout industrialized countries and they have provided very significant benefits in many ways, but future discussions between a patient and their physician should include NAION as a potential risk. Our findings should be viewed as being significant but tentative, as future studies are needed to examine these questions in a much larger and more diverse population,” lead researcher Dr Rizzo said in a news release.

Also read: Is the famous weight-loss drug coming to India soon? What we know so far

Novo Nordisk’s response

Ozempic and Wegovy’s distributor,
Novo Nordisk
, stated in a statement that it takes patient safety reports seriously.

A “causal association” between the drugs and the disease, according to the manufacturer, is not established by the study data. The company further stated that NAION has not been listed as a possible adverse effect on the FDA-approved marketing labelling for the medications.

“Semaglutide has been studied in large real-world evidence studies and robust clinical development programs with a cumulative exposure over 22 million patient years,” the company said in a statement.

Vision changes are listed as possible adverse effects on the US Food and Drug Administration-approved labels for both Ozempic and Wegovy.

Novo Nordisk is looking into the relationship between semaglutide use and diabetic retinopathy in a trial they expect to finish in 2027.

Expert opinion

The use of semaglutide drugs to treat diabetes and obesity shouldn’t be discouraged due to the possibility of NAION, according to experts.

“In the ever-changing landscape of systemic therapies, being vigilant for potential new disease associations is a duty we all share on behalf of patients,” Susan Mollan, an ophthalmologist, University Hospitals Birmingham, UK said, as per CNN.

According to Dr Disha Narang, director of obesity medicine at Endeavor Health in Chicago and endocrinologist, who was not involved in the new study, variations in blood sugar levels can impact the structure of the lens in the eye as well as vision.

Also, the use of semaglutides, which cause the body to produce more insulin to lower blood sugar, has been connected in the past to temporary changes in vision. This includes the development of new or worsening cases of diabetic retinopathy or damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye, the report explained. This is probably because semaglutides cause blood sugar levels to drop quickly.

With inputs from agencies

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