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Wegovy Is Good for More Than Just Weight Loss

Credit - Novo Nordisk

The obesity drug Wegovy can now claim to lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues in people who are overweight or who have obesity, and also have cardiovascular disease. It's the first weight-loss drug to carry an indication for heart benefits.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the addition to the label on March 8 based on a study from Wegovy’s manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, showing that the drug lowered the risk of heart attack, stroke, or dying of heart-related issues in this population by 20% compared to people receiving placebo.

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When the results of the study were first released at the American Heart Association meeting last November, the findings were greeted with a round of applause from the heart experts in attendance. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and while doctors have an arsenal of medications to treat many other risk factors—such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes—they haven't had a powerful enough drug to help people lose weight until now.

Wegovy, which was approved in 2021, is the brand name for semaglutide. Ozempic, which was approved in 2017 to treat diabetes, is a lower dosage of semaglutide; in 2020, it too received FDA approval for reducing the risk of major cardiovascular events in people with Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Patients taking Wegovy inject themselves once a week in increasing doses until they reach the target dose of 2.4 mg. People with a history of thyroid cancer should not use Wegovy, since semglutide has been linked to a higher risk of that cancer in animals (though not in people). Side effects of the injections include inflammation of the pancreas, kidney problems, and depression.

“This is an entirely new pathway to harness, of addressing obesity and its metabolic complications,” said Dr. Amit Khera, director of the Preventive Cardiology Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, after the results on which the approval was based were released in November. “The fact that we have a new treatment avenue for patients with cardiovascular disease is incredibly exciting, and welcome.”

Contact us at letters@time.com.