What are overweight and obesity?
Health care providers use the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measure of your weight in relation to your height, to define overweight and obesity. People who have a BMI between 25 and 30 are considered overweight. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or greater. You can calculate your BMI to learn if you are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese may increase the risk of health problems. Your health care provider can assess your individual risk due to your weight.
Obesity is a chronic condition that affects more than one in three adults in the United States. Another one in three adults is overweight. If you are struggling with your weight, you may find that a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity help you lose weight and keep it off over the long term. If these lifestyle changes are not enough to help you lose weight or maintain your weight loss, your doctor may prescribe medications as part of your weight-control program.
Prescription medications to treat overweight and obesity work in different ways. For example, some medications may help you feel less hungry or full sooner. Other medications may make it harder for your body to absorb fat from the foods you eat.
Weight-loss medications are meant to help people who may have health problems related to overweight or obesity. Before prescribing a weight-loss medication, your doctor also will consider
Health care professionals often use BMI to help decide who might benefit from weight-loss medications. Your doctor may prescribe a medication to treat your overweight or obesity if you are an adult with
Weight-loss medications arent for everyone with a high BMI. Some people who are overweight or obese may lose weight with a lifestyle program that helps them change their behaviors and improve their eating and physical activity habits. A lifestyle program may also address other factors that affect weight gain, such as eating triggers and not getting enough sleep.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved most weight-loss medications only for adults. The prescription medication orlistat (Xenical) is FDA-approved for children ages 12 and older.
Medications dont replace physical activity or healthy eating habits as a way to lose weight. Studies show that weight-loss medications work best when combined with a lifestyle program. Ask your doctor or other health care professional about lifestyle treatment programs for weight management that will work for you.
When combined with changes to behavior, including eating and physical activity habits, prescription medications may helpsome people lose weight. On average, people who take prescription medications as part of a lifestyle program losebetween 3 and 9 percent more of their starting body weight than people in a lifestyle program who do not take medication.Research shows that some people taking prescription weight-loss medications lose 10 percent or more of their startingweight.1 Results vary by medication and by person.
Weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of your starting body weight may help improve your health by lowering blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides. Losing weight also can improve some other health problems related to overweight and obesity, such as joint pain or sleep apnea. Most weight loss takes place within the first 6 months of starting the medication.
Experts are concerned that, in some cases, the side effects of prescription medications to treat overweight and obesity may outweigh the benefits. For this reason, you should never take a weight-loss medication only to improve the way you look. In the past, some weight-loss medications were linked to serious health problems. For example, the FDA recalled fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine (part of the fen-phen combination) in 1997 because of concerns related to heart valve problems.
Possible side effects vary by medication and how it acts on your body. Most side effects are mild and most often improve if you continue to take the medication. Rarely, serious side effects can occur.
Choosing a medication to treat overweight or obesity is a decision between you and your doctor. Important factors to consider include
How long you will need to take weight-loss medication depends on whether the drug helps you lose and maintain weight and whether you have any side effects. If you have lost enough weight to improve your health and are not having serious side effects, your doctor may advise that you stay on the medication indefinitely. If you do not lose at least 5 percent of your starting weight after 12 weeks on the full dose of your medication, your doctor will probably advise you to stop taking it. He or she may change your treatment plan or consider using a different weight-loss medication. Your doctor also may have you try different lifestyle, physical activity, or eating programs; change your other medications that cause weight gain; or refer you to a bariatric surgeon to see if weight-loss surgery might be an option for you.
Because obesity is a chronic condition, you may need to continue changes to your eating and physical activity habits and other behaviors for yearsor even a lifetimeto improve your health and maintain a healthy weight.
You will probably regain some weight after you stop taking weight-loss medication. Developing and maintaining healthy eating habits and increasing physical activity may help you regain less weight or keep it off. Federal physical activity guidelines (PDF, 14.2 MB) recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and at least 2 days a week of muscle-strengthening activities. You may need to do more than 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to reach or maintain your weight-loss goal.
Some, but not all, insurance plans cover medications that treat overweight and obesity. Contact your insurance provider to find out if your plan covers these medications.
The table below lists FDA-approved prescription medications for weight loss. The FDA has approved five of these drugsorlistat (Xenical, Alli), lorcaserin (Belviq), phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave), and liraglutide (Saxenda)for long-term use. You can keep taking these drugs as long as you are benefiting from treatment and not having unpleasant side-effects.
Some weight-loss medications that curb appetite are approved by the FDA only for short-term use, or up to 12 weeks. Although some doctors prescribe them for longer periods of time, not many research studies have looked at how safe and effective they are for long-term use.
Pregnant women should never take weight-loss medications. Women who are planning to get pregnant also should avoid these medications, as some of them may harm a fetus.
Available in lower dose without prescription (Alli)
MAY LEAD TO BIRTH DEFECTS. DO NOT TAKE QSYMIA IF YOU ARE PREGNANT OR PLANNING A PREGNANCY. Do not take if you are breastfeeding.
MAY INCREASE SUICIDAL THOUGHTS OR ACTIONS.
Available by injection only
Note: FDA-approved only for short-term useup to 12 weeks
Sometimes doctors use medications in a way thats different from what the FDA has approved, known as off-label use. By choosing an off-label medication to treat overweight and obesity, your doctor may prescribe
You should feel comfortable asking your doctor if he or she is prescribing a medication that is not approved just for treating overweight and obesity. Before using a medication, learn all you need to know about it.
Researchers are currently studying several new medications and combinations of medications in animals and people. Researchers are working to identify safer and more effective medications to help people who are overweight or obese lose weight and maintain a healthy weight for a long time.
Future drugs may use new strategies, such as to
 Yanovski SZ, Yanovski JA. JAMA. Long-term drug treatment for obesity: A systematic and clinical review. 2014; 311(1):7486.
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