What is Semaglutide: Here's What the Hype is All About

Semaglutide, a medication initially developed for diabetes, has garnered significant attention for its potential in weight loss. We will delve into the hype surrounding semaglutide, exploring its efficacy, potential applications beyond weight loss, and the latest research findings. We'll uncover why this medication has generated such buzz and what the future may hold for its use.

Understanding Semaglutide for Weight Loss

Semaglutide is a prescription medication that falls under the class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists, which work by mimicking the action of the naturally occurring hormone glucagon-like peptide-1. This hormone is integral in the regulation of blood sugar levels. Semaglutide helps increase insulin secretion, which in turn lowers blood sugar, and it also slows down digestion and can reduce appetite, which contributes to weight management.

In the context of weight loss, semaglutide has gained widespread attention for its vast potential as a weight loss medication. Clinical trials have shown that semaglutide can lead to significant weight loss in adults who are obese or overweight. The weight loss effects are thought to be a result of its ability to reduce hunger and increase feelings of fullness, leading to a decrease in calorie intake.

The use of semaglutide as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes is becoming more common. Health care providers recommend a combination of semaglutide treatment, a calorie-controlled diet, and regular physical activity as a strategy to support weight loss goals. It's important to note that while semaglutide can be an effective tool, it is often considered an adjunct to, rather than a replacement for, the foundational components of diabetes management and weight loss, which are diet and exercise.

How Does Semaglutide Work to Help Weight Loss?

Semaglutide is a medication approved by the FDA that plays a significant role in weight loss and glucose regulation. It interacts with the body's systems at a hormonal level, affecting appetite and insulin response to manage blood sugar levels.

Semaglutide contributes to weight loss primarily by modulating appetite. It mimics a natural hormone called GLP-1 that signals the brain to reduce hunger and caloric intake.

  • Reduces appetite: Causes a feeling of fullness, leading to decreased calorie consumption
  • Slows gastric emptying: Food remains in the stomach longer, which helps prolong the sensation of fullness

Clinical trials have demonstrated that patients using Semaglutide experience a significant reduction in body weight compared to those not on the medication.

The Mechanism of Semaglutide

The mechanism of action for Semaglutide hinges on its ability to regulate blood sugar levels by affecting insulin secretion and action.

  • Increases insulin production: When glucose levels are high, Semaglutide stimulates the pancreas to release insulin.
  • Lowers glucagon secretion: It also reduces the secretion of glucagon, which is a hormone that increases blood sugar levels.

By enhancing insulin secretion and action, Semaglutide helps patients maintain better control over their blood sugar levels and improving low blood sugar.

Key Differences: Semaglutide vs Ozempic vs Wegovy

Semaglutide is an active ingredient used to manage type 2 diabetes and obesity. Ozempic and Wegovy are brand names of weight loss drugs that contain semaglutide, manufactured by Novo Nordisk. Each brand of weight loss drug is tailored for specific conditions and dosages differ to align with their intended uses.


  • Use: Primarily for type 2 diabetes.
  • Administration: Once-weekly subcutaneous injection.
  • Dosages: 0.5 mg or 1 mg.
  • Approval: FDA-approved for cardiovascular risk reduction in patients with type 2 diabetes and established heart disease.


  • Use: Weight management for adults with obesity or overweight.
  • Administration: Once-weekly subcutaneous injection.
  • Dosages: Begins at 0.25 mg, titrating to a target dose of 2.4 mg.
  • Approval: FDA-approved specifically for chronic weight management.

Both medications utilize the same compound, semaglutide, but they are not interchangeable. The dosage for Wegovy is higher, reflecting its role in suppressing appetite and aiding in weight loss. In contrast, Ozempic provides necessary blood sugar control for diabetic patients and may contribute to moderate weight loss as a secondary benefit.

Who is Using Semaglutide?

Semaglutide is used predominantly by adults who need help with weight loss, especially among those diagnosed with obesity or overweight. The key demographic includes individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of:

  • 30 kg/m² or higher (obese), or
  • 27 kg/m² or higher (overweight) and at least one weight-related comorbidity, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

For patients specifically with type 2 diabetes, semaglutide serves a dual purpose. It not only aids in weight management but also improves blood sugar control.

Furthermore, healthcare providers consider individual factors such as the patient's medical history, potential benefits, and the risk of adverse effects before prescribing semaglutide. It is routinely emphasized that the drug is an adjunct to a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity for optimal results.

The demographic that may not be suitable for semaglutide includes:

  • Pregnant or nursing women.
  • Individuals with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma.
  • Patients with Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2.
  • Those with a history of hypersensitivity to semaglutide or any of its excipients.

The use among children or teen populations is generally not recommended, as the safety and effectiveness have not been established for individuals under 18 years of age.

What Happens if You Stop Taking Semaglutide?

When patients halt the use of semaglutide, it is common for them to experience a reversal of its effects on weight, appetite, blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and the management of type 2 diabetes.

Weight: Individuals might notice a gradual weight increase post-discontinuation, which is attributed to the cessation of semaglutide's appetite-suppressing qualities.

Appetite: Once semaglutide is no longer administered, appetite levels often return to the baseline, as the medication's influence on appetite regulation diminishes.

Blood Sugar Levels: Semaglutide's role in stabilizing blood glucose levels can be compromised upon discontinuation. Patients may experience a rise in blood sugar levels, necessitating alternative treatments to maintain control.

High Blood Pressure: Benefits seen in blood pressure reduction while on semaglutide might be lost, potentially leading to previous levels of high blood pressure.

Type 2 Diabetes: The management of type 2 diabetes can be affected as well. The patient's glycemic control could worsen without the glucose-regulating effects of semaglutide.

Injecting Yourself with Semaglutide

Administering semaglutide effectively involves understanding the nuances of dosing protocols and addressing concerns like needle phobia. These factors are integral for ensuring patient adherence and optimal therapeutic outcomes.

Overcoming Needle Phobia

Individuals often experience apprehension or fear of needles, which can discourage them from adhering to a semaglutide injection regimen.

Distraction and relaxation techniques can be effective in reducing anxiety during semaglutide injections. Here are some methods you might consider:

Distraction Techniques:

  1. Listen to soothing music: Music can help distract you from the injection and create a calming environment.
  2. Engage in activities: This could be watching a show, talking to a friend, or even playing a video game.
  3. Practice positive thoughts and visualization: Instead of focusing on the injection, visualize a peaceful scene or think about something that makes you happy.
  4. Use the 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique: This involves focusing on your physical senses. Think of five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Relaxation Techniques:

  1. Deep breathing exercises: Practice deep breathing before and during the injection to help reduce anxiety.
  2. Yoga or other physical activities: These can help distract your mind and also promote overall relaxation.
  3. Use of numbing cream or ice pack: Applying these to the injection site prior to administration may help reduce sensitivity and minimize discomfort.

Remember, it's important to find what works best for you. These techniques can be practiced and refined over time to ensure they provide the most benefit. Always consult with your healthcare provider if you have persistent anxiety about your injections. They can provide additional strategies and support to help manage your anxiety.

Dosage Protocols

Following the correct dosing protocol is critical for the success of semaglutide treatment. Here are specific guidelines:

  • Starting Dose: Semaglutide is typically initiated at a low dose to minimize gastrointestinal side effects.
  • Titration: Gradually increasing the dose allows patients to reach an effective therapeutic level.
  • Missed Dose: If a dose is missed, patients are usually advised to take it as soon as they remember if it's within a certain time frame.

SAMPLE Semaglutide Dosing Schedule:

  • Week 1-4: 0.25 mg
  • Week 5-8: 0.5 mg
  • Thereafter: Maintenance dose as directed

It's essential that you adhere to the prescribed dosing schedule and consult your healthcare provider if there are any uncertainties or issues with your injections.

Potential Side Effects of Semaglutide Injections

Semaglutide, used in the management of type 2 diabetes and as a treatment for obesity, has a spectrum of possible adverse reactions. Patients may experience gastrointestinal side effects, which are among the most common. These include:

  • Nausea: A feeling of discomfort in the stomach, often accompanied by an urge to vomit.
  • Diarrhea: Frequent loose or liquid bowel movements.
  • Constipation: Difficulty in emptying the bowels, typically associated with hardened feces.
  • Vomiting: The forcible expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth.

Other reactions that individuals might encounter encompass:

  • Headache: Persistent pain in the head that may occur with or without other symptoms.
  • Hypoglycemia: Abnormally low blood glucose levels, which may be more likely when used concomitantly with insulin or insulin secretagogues.
  • Allergic reactions: These can range from mild skin rashes to more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing and swelling under the skin, typically around the eyes and lips.

Less commonly, serious side effects can occur, such as:

  • Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas, presenting with severe abdominal pain.
  • Heart attack and stroke: Cardiovascular events due to blood clots or arterial blockage.
  • Cancer risks, specifically medullary thyroid carcinoma and cases related to multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2): Such risks necessitate caution in individuals with a personal or family history of thyroid cancer or endocrine syndromes.
  • Infection: Use may potentiate infections, including respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

You should be aware of these potential reactions and discuss them with a healthcare provider. Monitoring is essential, especially when commencing treatment or adjusting dosage.

Cost Considerations of Semaglutide Injections

Semaglutide, while a valuable medication for those needing it, can be a significant financial expense for patients.

The High Costs of Semaglutide

Semaglutide is available under different brand names and dosages, leading to variances in pricing. One can expect a month’s supply to be in the hundreds of dollars without insurance. The high cost can be attributed to its effectiveness and its status as a relatively new drug in the market.

  • Average Cost Without Insurance: $900 to $1,000 for a 30-day supply.
  • Factors Influencing Cost: Drug dosage, brand, and the pharmacy's pricing.

Using Insurance to Cover the Costs

Insurance coverage for semaglutide varies widely depending on the patient's health care plan and the indication for use.

  • Healthcare Plan Dependency: Some plans may cover semaglutide fully or partially, while others may not cover it at all, particularly if considered not essential.
  • Prescription Coverage: Patients will often need a specific prescription from their health care provider indicating its necessity for obesity treatment or diabetes management to qualify for coverage.
  • With insurance: Copayments as low as $25 to $30 per month.
  • Without insurance: Full cost of the medication.

Consult with your healthcare provider and insurance company to understand the specific financial responsibilities and to explore patient assistance programs if available.

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Nancy Park, RN, BSN
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