What Is Ozempic?

Mahshid Moghei, PhD Medically reviewed by Mahshid M. on | Written by Matthew Sommers

Ozempic Pen

Whether your primary focus is weight loss or looking to improve your blood sugar control, you’ve likely heard Ozempic mentioned frequently. Headlines, social media, family, and friends have all been more likely to mention the medication in recent years, along with similar medications in the GLP-1 class. 

As interest in Ozempic and its alternatives grows, it’s helpful to have some background about the medication. What can Ozempic be used for, and how does it work? What are the side effects and precautions to be aware of? How do these affect who may or may not be likely to have the medication prescribed? Let’s take a closer look at some of these questions to help you become more informed and able to take an active role in your healthcare. 

Key Takeaways

  • Ozempic has traditionally been used to help individuals with type 2 diabetes gain improved blood sugar control. 

  • Ozempic has also been associated with significant weight loss. Its active ingredient, semaglutide, is also used in Wegovy, a medication approved specifically for weight loss. 

  • Ozempic is a GLP-1 agonist, a class of medications that mimic the activity of glucagon in the body. 

  • The most common side effects of Ozempic are gastrointestinal, including upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea. 

  • Like other GLP-1 agonists, Ozempic may increase the risk of developing thyroid tumors and pancreatitis. Ozempic can also worsen existing gastroparesis, a condition defined by delayed stomach emptying. Talking with your healthcare providers about your medical history is important to ensure the medication is used safely. 

What Is Ozempic Used For?

Ozempic initially gained prominence and continues to be widely used for its role in type 2 diabetes management. For those managing type 2 diabetes, reaching target levels of hemoglobin A1c becomes a primary focus over time. A1c measurements help define average blood glucose levels over a period of about three months, which can provide important additional context to the ‘snapshot’ readings obtained with fingersticks. 

Improving blood sugar control and reaching A1c goals translates into lower risks of diabetes progression. This can mean lowering the likelihood of developing kidney disease, nerve damage, changes in vision, or cardiovascular disease. Ozempic has been effective in helping people reach their A1c goals

Over the years, Ozempic has also gained a lot of attention because of the significant weight loss associated with its use. Its active ingredient, semaglutide, is also used in Wegovy, a medication approved specifically for weight loss—including for individuals without diabetes. Wegovy provides a maximum dose 20% higher than the maximum dose of Ozempic, but weight loss has also been reported with lower doses of Ozempic. 

When semaglutide is recommended for weight loss specifically, it’s often intended for individuals who meet certain criteria:

  • Body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or higher

  • BMI of 27 kg/m2 AND at least one of the following:

    • High blood pressure

    • High cholesterol

    • Type 2 Diabetes

    • Obstructive sleep apnea

    • History of cardiovascular disease

Ozempic Dosing

When using Ozempic for diabetes, a lower starting dose of 0.25 mg weekly is often recommended. The doses of Ozempic available are:

  • 0.25 mg (typical starting dose)

  • 0.5 mg

  • 1 mg

  • 2 mg (typical target dose)

To allow the body to adjust to the medication, each dose is often used for about a month before moving to the next higher dose. This can help avoid or limit common side effects like stomach upset, nausea, and diarrhea. 

After talking with your healthcare provider, a joint decision may be made to use Ozempic for weight management. The starting dose, taper, and target dose are the same when using Ozempic for weight loss. It’s important to note that it can take months to reach the target dose, and many weight loss results are recorded after periods of a year or more. Weight loss also heavily depends on healthy lifestyle choices like diet and exercise. 

How Does Ozempic Work?

Ozempic is a GLP-1 agonist, a class of medications that works by mimicking glucagon at different receptors in the body. Ultimately, this results in several important effects:

  • Stimulation of insulin release by the pancreas. 

  • Delayed stomach emptying after meals. 

  • Reports of reduced hunger. 

By slowing down stomach emptying, glucose from meals enters the bloodstream more slowly. When glucose is absorbed, it’s processed by insulin. This helps avoid spikes in blood sugar and promotes improved control over time. These processes, along with the potential for reduced hunger, can also help promote weight loss. 

Ozempic Side Effects

Because Ozempic can slow down stomach emptying, this means food stays in the stomach longer. This does have the potential to contribute to some negative effects as well. A primary concern, especially early in therapy, is stomach upset and nausea. Diarrhea is also among the side effects reported most often among those using Ozempic. Common side effects include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Constipation

While these can be bothersome, they can often be minimized by following your healthcare provider’s instructions and increasing the dose of the medication slowly over time. For those managing existing gastroparesis (a condition characterized by delayed gastric emptying), avoiding GLP-1 medications like Ozempic may be recommended. Ozempic causes similar effects on the stomach and can make gastroparesis worse. 

More serious side effects include a higher risk of developing thyroid tumors, including thyroid cancer, and pancreatitis. It’s important to review your medical history with your providers to ensure safe use of the medication — this also includes mentioning any family history of thyroid tumors. 

Ozempic Alternatives

Exploring alternatives ultimately depends on what you’re using the medication for. In the case of diabetes, several classes and medications can also provide support, including:

  • Other GLP-1 medications (e.g., Mounjaro, Trulicity, Rybelsus, Wegovy, or Victoza)

  • Metformin

  • Sulfonylureas (e.g., glimepiride or glipizide)

  • DPP-4 inhibitors (e.g., Januvia, Onglyza, or Tradjenta)

  • SGLT-2 inhibitors (e.g., Farxiga, Jardiance, or Invokana)

  • Insulin

The choice can often depend on other factors like your body’s ability to produce its own insulin, or whether you have other conditions like heart failure. It’s helpful to work closely with your healthcare providers consistently over the long term to ensure you have the best treatments for your individual needs. 

Evaluating alternatives for weight loss can also depend on a variety of factors. For instance, phentermine may best avoided by those with certain heart conditions. It’s also important to consider the amount of weight that’s likely to be lost. 

Interest in GLP-1 medications has grown partly because of its ability to more consistently help people lose at least 5% of their initial body weight. This is important for those considered overweight, because this amount of weight loss is more likely to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and provide other benefits like improved mobility. Many over-the-counter weight loss supplements aren’t able to consistently promote this amount of weight loss. 

Regardless of whether you choose a prescription medication, over-the-counter supplement, or diet and exercise plans, it’s always helpful to talk with your healthcare providers to ensure your plan aligns with both your goals and your safety needs. 

Ozempic Cost

If you and your healthcare provider agree that Ozempic is right for you, the next challenge is often managing medication costs. At many pharmacies, the typical Ozempic cost without insurance, or for those with a high deductible, is often over $1000 per month. There is no Ozempic generic currently available, so finding reasonable prices can be difficult. 

Cash prices can vary considerably between pharmacies, so it helps to spend some time researching options. Many also opt to buy their personal prescription medications like Ozempic directly from Canadian pharmacies to take advantage of lower prices than can be found at many pharmacies in the United States. PlanetDrugsDirect contracts with licensed Canadian pharmacies to help you find prescription medications at more affordable prices. 


Ozempic is a GLP-1 medication that can help improve blood sugar control for those with type 2 diabetes. Over time, its association with weight loss has led its active ingredient, semaglutide, to be approved specifically for weight loss when sold under the brand name Wegovy. Many patients and healthcare providers also consider using Ozempic for weight loss as well. It’s important to work closely with your providers to ensure the medication will be safe and ultimately effective for your needs. 

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The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.