Image: Bigstock. Newer medications, which may be safer than earlier drugs, have expanded the options for treating obesity. Obesity is now considered more than a risk factor for other conditions; it's a disease itself. It has been the subject of intense scientific and medical research to develop effective treatments. But the quest has been elusive. Four medications approved by the FDA since —Qsymia phentermine and topiramate , Belviq lorcaserin , Contrave naltrexone and bupropion and Saxenda liraglutide —have added to the options for treating obesity, says Dr.
Like older medications, the new drugs are best used as part of a comprehensive weight-loss program that includes close monitoring by an experienced physician. The approved drugs are usually prescribed for people with a BMI higher than 30, especially if they have other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, or sleep apnea, which can often be alleviated by losing weight.
Not everyone responds the same way to any given drug. A few people may lose a great deal of weight on a particular drug, while others may lose little or none. Kaplan says. Fortunately, however, if you don't respond to one drug, you may do well with another. It often requires trying multiple medications to find the right one for each person. The weight-loss drugs won't melt off the pounds overnight. However, even that modest weight loss can improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
You may remember some disturbing reports about previous weight-loss medications. Dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine were taken off the market after they were linked to heart valve damage. Sibutramine Meridia was removed after it was linked to heart attack and stroke in people at highest risk for them.
The options on the market today come with their own cautions. The ingredient phentermine—a component of Adipex-P, Ionamin, and Qsymia—isn't usually recommended for people who have high blood pressure or other heart conditions. Topiramate, another component of Qsymia, has been linked to an increased risk of birth defects, so women who take it should take special precautions not to get pregnant.
But medications are not a substitute for lifestyle changes. They work best when used as part of a broader medical weight-loss program. They should be just one part of a lifelong plan that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction. Some weight-loss medications contain drugs used to treat other conditions.
You may want to consider a "dual-purpose" medication if you have the following:. Type 2 diabetes. You might want to try liraglutide Saxenda , which may lower your blood sugar.
If you're a migraine sufferer and don't intend to get pregnant, you might consider Qsymia. One of its components, topiramate, is approved for treating migraines and seizures. Contrave contains bupropion, an antidepressant.
It may elevate your mood, which can aid weight loss. Disclaimer: As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. Harvard Women's Health Watch. E-mail Address. First Name Optional. Which medication to choose? You may want to consider a "dual-purpose" medication if you have the following: Type 2 diabetes.