weight loss drugs for cardiovascular disease
weight loss drugs for cardiovascular disease

How Weight-Loss Drugs Are Helping Those With Cardiovascular Disease

Posted on July 2, 2024 by Suzanna Mazur

The drug semaglutide (sold under the brand names Ozempic® and Wegovy®) has proven to have some pretty remarkable benefits. While it was originally intended to help with glucose metabolism in the body, experts have found several additional effects of the drug that are proving to help treat other health conditions including heart disease. In fact, as of March 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Wegovy to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack and stroke in adults who are obese or overweight and have cardiovascular disease.

Here, Joshua Collins, M.D., an internal medicine doctor at Henry Ford Health, explains what we know so far.

How Ozempic And Wegovy Work

Semaglutide was originally created to help lower blood sugar levels in patients. It does so by increasing production and secretion of insulin in the pancreas to combat high blood sugar levels, normalizing them over time. But it impacts other parts of the body too.

“Semaglutide allows fat cells in your body to take up more sugars and begin to break down,” says Dr. Collins. “Additionally, it impacts the brain signals the body sends out related to hunger and slows the emptying of the GI track. This is why weight loss is a common effect of its use.”

Before the recent FDA approval for Wegovy use to treat cardiovascular disease, Wegovy was prescribed for obesity and Ozempic was prescribed to patients with type 2 diabetes.

The Connection Between Semaglutide And Your Heart Disease Risk

Researchers have long thought that there could be a link between the anti-inflammatory effects of semaglutide and improved heart health.

“The hormonal signaling effects of semaglutide that reduces inflammation in the body can impact the heart muscles and blood vessels connected to the heart, even impacting how the heart muscles are able to contract,” says Dr. Collins. “So, by reducing this inflammation, you reduce your chances of these heart risks developing.”

Additionally, Dr. Collins notes that there are signals in the data about semaglutide that show that fewer people are dying from a major heart event while taking this medication.

In a 2023 study done by the New England Journal of Medicine, patients with cardiovascular disease who were either overweight or had obesity were given semaglutide or a placebo. The results showed a decrease in death from cardiovascular cause, nonfatal heart attack or nonfatal stroke over almost 40 months.

The outcomes from this study were profound enough that it contributed to the FDA approval for a new indication for Wegovy.

“While we cannot explain direct causation from this data, the results are powerful,” says Dr. Collins. “We do know that elevated blood sugar levels and obesity, which can be treated with semaglutide, can without a doubt increase your risk of heart failure. Semaglutide cannot only help normalize your blood sugar levels, but we can now say that it will decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke and even death from cardiovascular disease.”

The Future Of Ozempic And Wegovy Use

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The FDA approval for Wegovy raises the question of how else semaglutide can help people beyond its original purpose.

“This is an exciting new indication for a medication that continues to show a lot of promise,” says Dr. Collins. “Semaglutide also helps lower fat content in the liver, so it is likely just a matter of time until we have the data to support treating certain types of liver disease as well.”

If you want to explore if semaglutide could be an option for you, talk with your primary care doctor or cardiologist. If you are struggling to manage your diabetes or are looking to control obesity, you could be a candidate for this medication. Plus, while managing one condition, you’ll be lowing your risk for heart disease going forward. As of now, it is important to note that only Wegovy has been approved for cardiovascular disease use. Ozempic is still only an option for patients with type 2 diabetes.

“Semaglutide is yet another tool that we have to help optimize people’s health,” says Dr. Collins. “As we continue to study the effects and outcomes of this medication, I have no doubt that we will use semaglutide and similar medications to treat additional health conditions in the future.”

Reviewed by Dr. Joshua Collins, an internal medicine specialist and Medical Director of Executive Health at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients in Detroit at Henry Ford Hospital and the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine.

Categories : FeelWell

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