All about prescription weight loss medication

A doctor may prescribe FDA-approved weight loss medications, which should be used along with lifestyle changes.

Hello Alpha Team
Hello Alpha
Published in
4 min readApr 23, 2021


Photo by Samuel Ramos on Unsplash

There are several weight loss medications that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for both short-term and long-term use.

However, these medications are not meant to be used on their own. People should use them along with lifestyle changes like healthy eating and physical exercise to promote healthy weight loss.

Who can or should get weight loss medication?

A doctor or healthcare provider must prescribe weight loss medication.

One factor they will consider when prescribing medication is the patient’s body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of one’s weight in relation to height.

People with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight while obesity is considered having a BMI of 30 or over, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A patient who has health complications related to being overweight or obese might be prescribed weight loss medication. A doctor will also assess the benefits of using weight loss medication, potential side effects, medical history, and other medications a patient might be using to decide whether weight loss medication is right for them.

How do weight loss medications work?

Some medications work by making people feel less hungry or feel full sooner. Other medications might make it harder for your body to absorb fat from foods.

For example, the medication Orlistat (also known as Xenical or Alli) is one of the weight loss drugs approved by the FDA for long-term use. Orlistat binds to fat cells and prevents them from being absorbed into the body. Less stored fat translates into weight loss.

Here are the weight loss medications approved by the FDA for long term use:

  • Orlistat (Xenical or Alli) — reduces how much fat the body absorbs. This is approved for adults and children 12 and older.
  • Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia) — this medication works to lessen appetite so that you feel less hungry or full sooner.
  • Naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave) — this medication may make you feel less hungry or full sooner.
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda) — this is an injected medication that makes you feel less hungry or full sooner.

Other medications that are approved for short-term use (12 weeks or less) include Phentermine, Benzphetamine, Diethylpropion, and Phendimetrazine.

Remember that weight loss medications are always meant to be used along with lifestyle changes like healthy eating and physical exercise. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Guidelines for Americans recommends getting at least 150 minutes of exercise daily, which can take different forms and be spread out throughout the week.

How long do people use weight loss medications?

The length of time someone has to stay on weight loss medications depends. After all, some medications are not approved for long-term use beyond 12 weeks.

A doctor will assess weight loss progress to determine whether someone should continue using medications. For example, if someone does not lose at least 5 percent of their starting weight several weeks into using the medication, a doctor might advise that they stop taking the medication or switch to another one.

The most weight loss takes place in the first 3 to 6 months of using medication, then weight loss plateaus.

Some people may remain on weight loss medications — and their lifestyle program — indefinitely if it appears to be working with minimal side effects.

What are the pros and cons of weight loss medication?

Combined with lifestyle changes, weight loss medications can help people lose up to 10 percent of their starting weight.

Even smaller weight loss changes can have health benefits, like lowered blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. Lower weight can also improve health problems like sleep apnea or joint pain that might have been linked to obesity.

While weight loss medications are safe for use, some people may experience mild side effects like nausea, constipation, or diarrhea.

Most side effects will improve with time and serious side effects are rare.

Overall, FDA-approved medications are safe to use. As with all medications, it’s important to follow the doctor’s instructions, buy medication from an authorized seller like a pharmacy, and follow the instructions for the medication itself.

People can also work with a registered dietitian to come up with a healthy eating and weight loss plan without medication.

Alpha provides diet and nutrition counseling online. Once you complete an online consultation, one of our registered dietitians will help you come up with a nutrition plan that suits your needs. Please note that dietitians cannot prescribe medication for weight loss.

To learn more about the conditions we treat or get started with your online consultation, check out our website and sign up today!



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