SAN DIEGO – For patients with obesity, surgery, lifestyle changes, and pharmacologic interventions are all treatment options, but antiobesity medications provide a better risk-to-benefit ratio, according to a presenter at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.

Lifestyle changes result in the least weight loss and may be safest, while surgery provides the most weight loss and has the greatest risk. Antiobesity medications, especially the newer ones used in combination with lifestyle changes, can provide significant and sustained weight loss with manageable side effects, said Daniel Bessesen, MD, a professor in the endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora.

New and more effective antiobesity medications have given internists more potential options to discuss with their patients, Dr. Bessesen said. He reviewed the pros and cons of the different options.

Medications are indicated for patients with a body mass index greater than 30, including those with a weight-related comorbidity, Dr. Bessesen said. The average weight loss is 5%-15% over 3-6 months but may vary greatly. Insurance often does not cover the medication costs.

Older FDA-approved antiobesity medications

Phentermine is the most widely prescribed antiobesity medication, partly because it is the only option most people can afford out of pocket. Dr. Bessesen presented recent data showing that long-term use of phentermine was associated with greater weight loss and that patients continuously taking phentermine for 24 months lost 7.5% of their weight.

Phentermine suppresses appetite by increasing norepinephrine production. Dr. Bessesen warned that internists should be careful when prescribing it to patients with mental conditions, because it acts as a stimulant. Early studies raised concerns about the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in patients taking phentermine. However, analysis of data from over 13,000 individuals showed no evidence of a relationship between phentermine exposure and CVD events.

“These data provide some reassurance that it could be used in patients with CVD risk,” he noted. Phentermine can also be combined with topiramate extended release, a combination that provides greater efficacy (up to 10% weight loss) with fewer side effects. However, this combination is less effective in patients with diabetes than in those without.

Additional treatment options included orlistat and naltrexone sustained release/bupropion SR. Orlistat is a good treatment alternative for patients with constipation and is the safest option among older anti-obesity medications, whereas naltrexone SR/bupropion SR may be useful in patients with food cravings. However, there is more variability in the individual-level benefit from these agents compared to phentermine and phentermine/topiramate ER, Dr. Bessesen said.

Newer anti‐obesity medications

Liraglutide, an agent used for the management of type 2 diabetes, has recently been approved for weight loss. Liraglutide causes moderate weight loss, and it may reduce the risk of CVD. However, there are tolerability issues, such as nausea and other risks, and Dr. Bessesen advises internists to “start at low doses and increase slowly.”

Semaglutide is the newest and most effective antiobesity drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration, providing sustained weight loss of 8% for up to 48 weeks after starting treatment. Although its efficacy is lower in patients with diabetes, Dr. Bessesen noted that “this is common for antiobesity agents, and clinicians should not refrain from prescribing it in this population.”

Setmelanotide is another new medication approved for chronic weight management in patients with monogenic obesity. This medication can be considered for patients with early-onset severe obesity with abnormal feeding behavior.

Commenting on barriers to access to new antiobesity medications, Dr. Bessesen said that “the high cost of these medications is a substantial problem, but as more companies become involved and products are on the market for a longer period of time, I am hopeful that prices will come down.”

Emerging antiobesity medications

Dr. Bessesen presented recent phase 3 data showing that treatment with tirzepatide provided sustained chronic loss and improved cardiometabolic measures with no diet. Tirzepatide, which targets receptors for glucagonlike peptide–1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, is used for the management of type 2 diabetes and is expected to be reviewed soon by the FDA for its use in weight management.

A semaglutide/cagrilintide combination may also provide a new treatment option for patients with obesity. In a phase 1b trial, semaglutide/cagrilintide treatment resulted in up to 17% weight loss in patients with obesity who were otherwise healthy; however, phase 2 and 3 data are needed to confirm its efficacy.

A ‘holistic approach’

When deciding whether to prescribe antiobesity medications, Dr. Bessesen noted that medications are better than exercise alone. Factors to consider when deciding whether to prescribe drugs, as well as which ones, include costs, local regulatory guidelines, requirement for long-term use, and patient comorbidities.

He also stated that lifestyle changes, such as adopting healthy nutrition and exercising regularly, are also important and can enhance weight loss when combined with medications.

Richele Corrado, DO, MPH, agreed that lifestyle management in combination with medications may provide greater weight loss than each of these interventions alone.

“If you look at the data, exercise doesn’t help you lose much weight,” said Dr. Corrado, a staff internist and obesity medicine specialist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., who spoke at the same session. She added that she has many patients who struggle to lose weight despite having a healthy lifestyle. “It’s important to discuss with these patients about medications and surgery.”

Dr. Bessesen noted that management of mental health and emotional well-being should also be an integral part of obesity management. “Treatment for obesity may be more successful when underlying psychological conditions such as depression, childhood sexual trauma, or anxiety are addressed and treated,” he said.

Dr. Bessesen was involved in the study of the efficacy of semaglutide/cagrilintide. He does not have any financial conflicts with the companies that make other mentioned medications. He has received research grants or contracts from Novo Nordisk, honoraria from Novo Nordisk, and consultantship from Eli Lilly. Dr. Corrado reported no relevant financial conflicts.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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