Prescription weight-loss drugs: Can they help you?

Examine the pros and cons of medications to treat obesity. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have serious health problems because of your weight and dieting hasn't worked for you, prescription weight-loss drugs may be an option. You should know, though, that prescription weight-loss drugs don't replace the need to make healthy changes in your eating habits and activity level.

Who is a candidate for weight-loss drugs?

Prescription weight-loss drugs are generally reserved for people who haven't been able to lose weight through diet and exercise, and who have health problems because of their weight. They're not for people who want to lose just a few pounds for cosmetic reasons.

Your doctor may consider weight-loss drugs for you if haven't been able to lose weight through diet and exercise and you meet one of the following:

  • Your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30
  • Your BMI is greater than 27 and you have a serious medical problem related to obesity, such as diabetes or high blood pressure

Before selecting a medication for you, your doctor will consider your health history, possible side effects and potential interaction of weight-loss drugs with other medications you're taking.

How well do weight-loss drugs work?

When combined with a low-calorie diet and regular exercise, weight-loss drugs produce an average weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of total body weight within a year, which is a typical weight-loss goal. Diet and exercise are responsible for part of this weight loss, and medications are responsible for part as well.

Losing 5 to 10 percent of your total weight may not seem like much, but even modest weight loss can improve your health by:

  • Decreasing blood pressure
  • Decreasing lipid levels
  • Decreasing blood glucose levels
  • Increasing insulin sensitivity

It's important to keep in mind, however, that these medications may not work for everyone. And when you stop taking these medications, you're likely to regain much or all of the weight you lost.

Jun. 07, 2013 See more In-depth