Taking Obesity Drug Wegovy May Reduce Heart Attack, Stroke Risk

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Nov. 13, 2023 – People with heart disease who took the weight loss medicine Wegovy were significantly less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, results of a much anticipated study show.

People in the study took the medicine – which has the same active ingredient as the diabetes drug Ozempic – for nearly 3 years on average and were followed for a total of 5 years. During that time, 6.5% of people who took Wegovy had a major heart event or died of heart disease, compared to 8% of people in the study who took a placebo treatment. The difference is the equivalent of a 20% reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, or death due to heart disease.

The results were published Saturday in The New England Journal of Medicine, and presented at the same time to a standing-room-only audience at a medical conference in Philadelphia, The New YorkTimes reported. The study included 17,604 people age 45 or older who had heart disease and were overweight or obese, but did not have diabetes. The average starting weight of people in the study was around 212 pounds.

People who took Wegovy lost about 9% of their body weight, on average, and also made gains in other health areas, like lowered cholesterol and blood pressure. People who took the placebo treatment lost just under 1% of their body weight, on average.

More than 16% of people who took Wegovy dropped out of the study early due to adverse events, compared to 8% of people dropping out who took the placebo treatment.

A Yale School of Medicine cardiology assistant professor called it “one of the most anticipated trials in the last 10 years,” noting that statins are the only other medication that have reduced risks to the heart and blood vessels as much in people with heart disease. 

“The uptake of this drug is going to be skyrocketing in the next couple of years,” Yuan Lu, ScD, who was not involved in the study, told the Times.

The findings are so important that treatment with Wegovy could become “a new best practice,” Clyde Yancey, MD, MSc, chief of the Cardiology Division at Northwestern Medicine, told the newspaper. . He also was not involved in the study.

The research did not show why the medicine improved heart health, such as possibly because of weight loss itself or due to other changes in the body. In addition to the link with overweight and obesity, heart problems are linked to physical inactivity, nutrition, sleep, cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Drugmaker Novo Nordisk said in a news release that it had filed with drug regulators in the U.S. and Europe for the drug to be approved for use to reduce the risk of heart problems in overweight and obese people. Analysts predict that approval could make the medicine more likely to be covered by insurance than it is now, multiple media outlets reported.