Written on November 28, 2022 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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In today’s world, many drug options are readily available to treat various diseases. One type of medication that has been on the market within the last few years is GLP-1 drugs. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) drugs are also known as GLP-1 agonists, GLP-1 receptor agonists, incretin mimetics, or GLP-1 analogs [1,2]. GLP-1 drugs are medications used to treat conditions such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.
It is estimated that about 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, with up to 95% having type 2 . GLP-1 drugs are an effective medication used for type 2 diabetes . Type 2 diabetes has been referred to as "adult-onset diabetes" and is a condition with insulin resistance. It means that over time, even though your body produces insulin, the cells in your body don’t respond as well to it anymore. Eventually, this leads to diabetes with increasing blood sugar levels.
Not only are GLP-1 drugs used for type 2 diabetes, but they are also used to treat obesity. They have been shown to improve cardiovascular risks, reduce weight, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol [1,2].
You have a naturally occurring hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) produced in your gut. The GLP-1 hormones are stimulated by food intake, primarily carbohydrates from your diet. The GLP-1 hormones bind to and act on specific GLP-1 receptors in various tissues, including the pancreas [1,2]. After binding, the GLP-1 hormone can stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin, in turn, helps your body cells take up the sugar in the blood to ultimately lower the blood sugar level.
GLP-1 drugs work by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone in your body. When you take a GLP-1 medicine, it works in three main ways [1,2,4]:
These effects combine to keep your blood sugars down and support the other benefits of taking a GLP-1 drug.
There are a few types of GLP-1 drugs. Below is a breakdown of the currently available forms of administration and examples.
Most GLP-1 drugs are injectables; however, semaglutide is an available oral option . Semaglutide is administered orally once a week.
GLP-1 drugs dosed once or twice a day are short-acting and are administered via a subcutaneous injection. Short-acting GLP-1 drugs include [1,2]:
Long-acting subcutaneous injections of GLP-1 drugs are administered once a week. Examples of GLP-1 long-acting medicines are [1,2]:
Common side effects of GLP-1 drugs are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea [1,2,4]. You may also experience dizziness, mildly increased heart rate, infections, headaches, and upset stomach. It’s also important to note that GLP-1 drugs increase satiety; if you continue to eat while feeling full, it may lead to a wave of temporary, mild nausea. If you experience nausea, your healthcare provider should slowly increase your dosage. Since the majority of GLP-1 drugs are subcutaneous injections, there may be injection-site itchiness and redness could occur. However, this class of medications has a low risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar [1,2].
If you have a family history of medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasias, or acute pancreatitis, you should avoid GLP-1 drugs [1,2,4]. If you have a severe allergic reaction to GLP-1 medications or are pregnant, you should also avoid taking this class of drugs. If you have severe gastrointestinal diseases like gastroparesis and inflammatory bowel disease, you should not take GLP-1 medicines.
If you have type 2 diabetes, have obesity, or want to learn more about the benefits and side effects of GLP-1 drugs, consider talking to your healthcare provider to see if this class of medications is an option for you.
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