Study: Taking Weight Loss Drugs Ozempic And Wegovy Increase Risk Of Rare Form Of Blindness

In this photo illustration, boxes of the diabetes drug Ozempic rest on a pharmacy counter on April 17, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
12:32 PM – Wednesday, July 3, 2024

A new study revealed that people taking Wegovy or Ozempic may be much more susceptible to a rare form of blindness. However, doctors maintain that this should not stop anyone from using the medications to manage their obesity or diabetes.


Physicians at Mass Eye and Ear noted a rapid and painless loss of vision in one eye in an abnormally high proportion of weight loss drug-consumers last summer due to a kind of ocular stroke known as non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION.

Although only up to 10 out of 100,000 members of the general public may suffer from the relatively rare condition, the doctors observed three incidences in one single week where patients using semaglutide medications like Wegovy and Ozempic had experienced it.

An analysis of six years’ worth of medical records also revealed that individuals with diabetes had a four-times higher chance of being diagnosed with NAION if they were taking prescription semaglutide, and those who were obese or overweight had a seven times higher chance of developing the illness if they were taking the drug. It was discovered that the risk was highest during the first year after being prescribed semaglutide.

The study, which was published on Wednesday in the journal “JAMA Ophthalmology,” does not establish a link between semaglutide treatment and NAION. Furthermore, the small sample size of patients—roughly 100 cases on average were found annually—from one specialized medical center might not translate to a larger community.

Meanwhile, the company that makes semaglutide pills in the U.S., Novo Nordisk, claimed that there is insufficient evidence in this new study to draw a link between semaglutide drug use and NAION. The Novo Nordisk logo is notable, depicting a bull with a sun disk between his horns. It is based on the Egyptian god of fertility and the underworld, Apis.

“Patient safety is a top priority for Novo Nordisk, and we take all reports about adverse events from the use of our medicines very seriously,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to reporters.

Prescriptions for semaglutide have increased dramatically in the U.S., which may put more people at risk for a possible adverse effect. After glaucoma, NAION is the second most common cause of optic nerve blindness.

“The use of these drugs has exploded throughout industrialized countries and they have provided very significant benefits in many ways, but future discussions between a patient and their physician should include NAION as a potential risk,” said researcher Dr. Joseph Rizzo, director of the neuro-ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear and a professor at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings should be viewed as being significant but tentative, as future studies are needed to examine these questions in a much larger and more diverse population.”

However, despite the higher risk, the condition is still not very prevalent.

Experts concur that using semaglutide drugs to treat diabetes or obesity should not be discouraged due to the possibility of NAION.

“In the ever-changing landscape of systemic therapies, being vigilant for potential new disease associations is a duty we all share on behalf of patients,” said Susan Mollan, an ophthalmologist with the University Hospitals Birmingham in the UK.

Doctors do not fully understand how semaglutides interact with the eyes. Furthermore, the precise etiology of NAION remains unknown. The illness damages the optic nerve, yet vision loss frequently occurs without any prior warning signs.

According to Dr. Disha Narang, an endocrinologist and director of obesity medicine at Endeavor Health in Chicago, variations in blood sugar levels can alter the structure of an eye’s lens and potentially impair eyesight. She was not part of the recent study.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels for both Ozempic and Wegovy include vision changes among potential side effects, and Novo Nordisk is exploring the link between semaglutide use and diabetic retinopathy in a trial which they expect to complete 2027,” CNN reported.

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