The Independent Pharmacy

Saxenda Side Effects: What And How To Manage Them

Daniel Hurley
Daniel HurleyMPharm IPPharmacist Independent Prescriber

Reviewed on 11 Oct 2023

Saxenda is a prescription injectable medicine used for chronic weight management in adults struggling with excess weight or obesity. Saxenda is a GLP-1 receptor agonist that mimics a hormone called GLP-1 that targets areas of the brain involved in increasing the levels of hormones called ‘incretins’ that reduce appetite and provide a sense of fullness by reducing the rate at which your stomach digests food. By acting on receptors in these regions, Saxenda helps increase feelings of fullness, reduce hunger, and promote weight loss.

However, just like with any other medication, there is a possibility that you’ll experience some side effects. When you start your weight loss journey with Saxenda, you might face side effects from the milder ones, such as a headache or dizziness, to the ones that are more serious but not as common, like pancreas issues or allergic reactions.

Learning about the possible side effects might help you use Saxenda more comfortably and safely. We understand that such adverse effects can be overwhelming and scary. But if you prepare in advance and learn what you can do to tackle the side effects, you could be much more confident in your treatment.

At The Independent Pharmacy, we understand that the weight loss journey is not easy. However, you’re not alone. As you keep going with your Saxenda treatment, you might find out that you can deal with and overcome the side effects, just like the number of patients who have been in your shoes before. When you get through the hurdles, you can get closer to a healthy weight and see the long-term benefits.

There are easy steps you can take to move past the more common side effects. But if you become worried or notice that some of the side effects persist, consult your doctor for further medical advice. They might adjust your dosage or prescribe another medicine for the side effects.

The weight loss journey is a marathon. But if you persist, pay attention to your body, and work with a plan tailored to your needs, you can reach the desired results.

Common Side Effects of Saxenda

When starting treatment with Saxenda, some adverse reactions are very common, especially within the first few weeks. Saxenda works by mimicking the hormone GLP-1, which slows digestion and suppresses appetite. So, it's understandable that the digestive system may need time to adjust.

Being aware of potential reactions and having a plan to address them can help you stick with Saxenda long enough to experience its benefits.

Some of the most frequently reported side effects include:

  • Nausea - Feeling queasy or sick to your stomach is one of the most frequent reactions. It's usually mild to moderate and often improves over time.
  • Vomiting - Some patients experience throwing up or regurgitating food when taking Saxenda. It tends to be short-lived.
  • Diarrhoea - Having loose, watery stools is a gastrointestinal effect reported by many users. Episodes are often manageable.
  • Constipation - While less common than diarrhoea, some people report infrequent bowel movements. Staying hydrated can help.
  • Fatigue - It's normal to experience tiredness, weakness or sleepiness when adjusting to Saxenda. Effects usually lessen.

Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation are very common initially. However, these adverse reactions tend to be temporary and often improve with time and management strategies. Being prepared can help you push through.

How to Manage Common Side Effects

We understand that dealing with digestive side effects or fatigue can be really frustrating and emotionally draining. But there are proven ways to help get the side effects under control so you can stick with treatment:

  • Dietary Changes - We all respond a little differently to medications. Pay attention to which foods tend to trigger or worsen your side effects. Try eating smaller, more frequent meals of bland items that are gentle on your stomach. Stay hydrated with water and clear broths. Avoid greasy, spicy or high-fibre options if they aggravate GI symptoms. Be prepared to tweak your reduced-calorie diet until you find what works best for you.
  • OTC Medications - Don't forget about over-the-counter relief! Medications like antacids, anti-nausea drugs, antidiarrheals and laxatives can provide relief for troublesome gastrointestinal side effects. Ask your pharmacist for recommendations.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments - We often overlook basic lifestyle factors that affect how we feel. Be sure to get enough sleep, reduce stress with relaxing activities, and slowly increase physical activity. This can help counter fatigue and sluggishness that some experience when starting your treatment.

If you've tried lifestyle changes and OTC meds and are still struggling, it's completely okay to seek further guidance from your healthcare provider. They may adjust your dosage or prescribe additional medications to better control reactions until your body adapts. Be patient, communicate openly, and work as a team to get the Saxenda side effects under control.

Mild Side Effects

One of the mild effects of the treatment is that Saxenda can slow stomach emptying, leading to reflux and heartburn in some users. In addition to the more common adverse reactions discussed, Saxenda may cause some mild nuisance side effects like:

  • Headache - Temporary headaches are reported in around 13% of patients when starting treatment. These typically resolve within a few weeks.1
  • Dizziness - Some patients experience occasional lightheadedness or vertigo, especially when standing up suddenly. Take care when first rising.
  • Heartburn - Saxenda can slow gastric emptying, leading to reflux and burning in around 7% of users initially. This often improves over time.
  • Injection site reactions - Redness, itching, or bruising at the injection spot is common but not serious. Rotate sites.
Where to self-inject Saxenda

Injection site reactions such as redness, itching, or bruising at the injection spot are common but not serious. Rotate sites to minimise this injection site reaction.

While frustrating, these mild self-limiting effects usually dissipate with continued Saxenda use with few risks.

Less Common but Serious Side Effects

While gastrointestinal issues like nausea and diarrhoea are most common initially, Saxenda may cause additional serious adverse reactions that require prompt medical attention. If your symptoms are severe, not improving, or getting worse, call 999 immediately.

Here are the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Pancreatitis - Saxenda is associated with an increased risk of inflammation of the pancreas gland. Symptoms requiring emergency care include severe persistent abdominal pain, abdominal tenderness, vomiting, and nausea.
  • Gallbladder Disease - Rapid weight loss facilitated by Saxenda could lead to the formation of gallstones. Symptoms of gallstones requiring prompt consultation include intense abdominal pain, fever, chills, and nausea.
  • Cardiovascular Effects - Saxenda may increase resting heart rate and is associated with reports of palpitations, tachycardia, dyspnea, and hypertension in some patients. Promptly report persistent signs of cardiac issues.
  • Kidney Injury - Cases of acute kidney injury have been reported. Increased thirst, decreased urine output, blood in the urine, and swelling could indicate renal impairment requiring evaluation.
  • Allergic Reactions - Rash, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing could signal a serious hypersensitivity reaction that necessitates urgent care to prevent anaphylaxis, which is a severe, potentially life threatening allergic reaction.

We know it's a lot to keep track of, but it's crucial to be vigilant for less common but serious side effects. If you notice any, please seek medical care right away to prevent further complications. Immediately contact your healthcare provider regarding any severe or concerning symptoms while taking Saxenda. Ongoing monitoring and testing are key to safe use.

While Saxenda commonly causes gastrointestinal effects like nausea and diarrhoea initially, most other side effects are relatively uncommon. Stay alert for any unusual reactions and maintain open communication with your healthcare provider to determine appropriate evaluation and management strategies for optimal safety and results.

How to Manage Serious Side Effects

If you experience any severe or concerning side effects while taking Saxenda:

  • Seek urgent medical care - Contact your healthcare provider immediately or go to the emergency room to get prompt treatment and prevent complications. If your symptoms are severe or prevalent, call 999 to get immediate help.
  • Follow prescribed recommendations - Take any medications, make Saxenda dosage adjustments, or undergo additional testing/monitoring advised by your doctor to control reactions.
  • Make recommended lifestyle changes - Follow guidance from your healthcare team on altering your diet, activity levels, or habits to help manage side effects long-term.
  • Maintain open communication - Keep your medical team informed of any persisting symptoms so they can adjust your treatment plan until side effects are under control.

While serious adverse events are rare with Saxenda, getting proper medical care quickly and following your doctor's recommendations are vital steps to getting reactions under control so you can continue benefiting from treatment.

Precautions Before Taking Saxenda

Before starting Saxenda, inform your healthcare provider about your full medical history and any medical conditions that may impact treatment:

  • Health Issues - Saxenda may not be suitable for patients with gastrointestinal disease, diabetic retinopathy, thyroid disease or those at risk for pancreatitis. Inform your healthcare provider if you have a history of medullary thyroid carcinoma or are at risk for this type of thyroid cancer. Patients with a history of certain types of thyroid cancer, such as medullary thyroid carcinoma, should avoid using Saxenda.
  • Other Medications - Saxenda can interact with certain medications like insulin, oral diabetes drugs, medications that affect blood clotting, and some heartburn medicines.
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding - Saxenda has not been adequately studied for safety and effects in pregnant or nursing women.
  • Kidney or Liver Problems - Saxenda has not been studied in patients with renal or hepatic impairment and is not recommended.
  • Allergies - Tell your provider about any medication allergies you have experienced. Signs of an allergic reaction include rash, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your healthcare provider, as the effects of Saxenda on an unborn baby are not well-studied.

Being upfront about your health history allows your doctor to determine if Saxenda is appropriate for you and if extra precautions are needed. Follow all dosage instructions carefully.

When to Consult a Healthcare Provider

Contact your doctor immediately or seek emergency medical care if you experience:

  • Severe persistent abdominal pain - Could indicate pancreatitis, cholecystitis, ulceration, or obstruction requiring prompt evaluation.
  • Shortness of breath, rash, swelling - Signs of an urgent allergic or anaphylactic reaction necessitating intervention.
  • Increased thirst, frequent urination - Indications of high blood sugar or uncontrolled diabetes needing medication adjustments.
  • Chest pain, irregular heartbeat, fainting - Warnings of cardiovascular side effects like heart palpitations, hypertension or tachycardia.
  • Hoarseness, trouble swallowing, neck swelling - Possible symptoms of thyroid tumours requiring imaging and hormone level tests.
  • Flank pain, high urine output, oedema - Signals of acute kidney injury or renal failure needing urgent analysis.
  • Vision issues like blurred vision - Could reflect retinal disease, glaucoma or eye nerve damage needing examination.
  • Suicidal thoughts and mood changes - Saxenda may infrequently affect mental health, necessitating therapy and medication changes. We understand how easy it can be to get lost in your own mind. But know, that you're not alone and help is always available to you.
  • Severe reactions not improving - That may warrant Saxenda discontinuation or dosage adjustments.

If you experience symptoms of thyroid cancer like hoarseness, trouble swallowing, or neck swelling, consult a healthcare professional immediately.

Routine monitoring also allows your provider to assess bloodwork values, weight changes, blood pressure, heart rate trends, and gastrointestinal symptoms to ensure your safe use of Saxenda and make any needed medication adjustments.

About GLP-1 Medications

Saxenda belongs to a group of weight loss shots called GLP-1 receptor agonists. Other examples are Victoza, Ozempic, Trulicity, and Wegovy. These medications work partly by acting on GLP-1 receptors to reduce appetite.

Since they work in a similar way, other GLP-1 shots can cause comparable stomach side effects as Saxenda at first, like feeling queasy, throwing up, or diarrhoea for some. The risk of rare but serious issues like pancreas inflammation may also be similar across these medications.

It’s important you read all patient leaflets fully and talk openly with your doctor. Don't assume all GLP-1 medications are the same in side effects or safety. Follow instructions carefully and report any ongoing concerning symptoms right away so your healthcare provider can properly evaluate and manage them.

With guidance tailored to your situation, GLP-1 medications can safely help eligible individuals achieve better health. But make sure that you work closely with your medical team to find the approach that fits your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Saxenda is an effective weight loss medication, but normal questions arise about potential risks and how to use it properly. This list of frequently asked questions addresses some common concerns about safety, dosage, length of treatment, and what happens if you overeat while taking Saxenda:

Is Saxenda considered a high-risk medication?

Saxenda does carry risks, especially for those with conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, pancreatitis, severe kidney disease, and certain cardiovascular diseases. However, human clinical trials did not show significantly increased health risks overall when used appropriately under close medical supervision and monitoring. Discuss your medical history and specific risk factors with your provider.

How much weight can you lose on Saxenda in a month?

In clinical trials, those taking Saxenda lost an average of 5-10% of their starting body weight over 6 months. However, results vary by individual based on factors like dosage, diet, activity level, adherence, and more. Typical weight loss in a month ranges from 4 to 7 pounds on average but depends heavily on the individual and other lifestyle factors. Gradual, steady loss is recommended.

How long is it safe to take Saxenda?

In studies, Saxenda was generally safe and well tolerated for use up to 4 years among patients continuing to benefit from it. There is no universal recommended time limit, but Saxenda is intended for long-term chronic weight management. Your doctor will determine the appropriate duration based on your individual results, side effects, and health indicators. Periodic evaluation is recommended.

What happens if you overeat while taking Saxenda?

Taking Saxenda helps promote feelings of fullness and reduce appetite. But it does not prevent you from eating beyond that feeling. Overeating may result in gastrointestinal side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach pain. Revisiting your dosage or diet with your healthcare provider can help manage this issue.

Conclusion

Losing weight with Saxenda takes work beyond just taking a pill. Saxenda alone won't fix things. It works best along with lifestyle changes, under your doctor's guidance. Work with your doctor to add Saxenda into a weight loss plan tailored for you. Look at weight management as an ongoing journey needing motivation, learning, support and, most importantly, patience with yourself. The path may have ups and downs, including Saxenda side effects. But by focusing on your goals, using Saxenda responsibly, and being kind to yourself, you can make good progress. Take it step-by-step and trust the process.

Sources:

Obesity - Treatment - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Saxenda, INN-liraglutide (europa.eu)

A 2021 Update on the Use of Liraglutide in the Modern Treatment of ‘Diabesity’: A Narrative Review - PMC (nih.gov)

Liraglutide for weight management: a critical review of the evidence - PMC (nih.gov)

label (fda.gov)

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