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Weight loss medications are available for some people when diet management and exercise are not enough. Most of these medications work by reducing appetite. Various options are available via prescription and over the counter (OTC).

According to 2017–2020 data, obesity prevalence rose from 30.5% to 41.9% in the United States.

While prescription and OTC medications are available, only one nonprescription medication has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Healthcare professionals may recommend specific diet and exercise programs alongside prescription weight loss medication.

This article discusses what weight loss medication is, how it works, and whether it is safe. It also lists the available medications, alternatives, and when to contact a doctor.

Weight loss medications typically work by suppressing a person’s appetite.

It is not completely clear how GLP-1 medications work. However, studies have shown that these drugs help to suppress hunger and manage appetite.

Research from 2021 states these types of medications can help with weight loss by decreasing energy intake and increasing energy expenditure.

Another type of weight loss medication is an anorectic. Further 2021 research states that these suppress appetite, minimize fat absorption, and increase the feeling of fullness.

Some weight loss medication is available on prescription, while others are OTC options.

Prescription weight loss medications are available as injections or capsules. Two types of weight loss medications are glucagon-like peptide agonists (GLP-1) and anorectics.

The following medication prices are current listings from Blink Health. However, a person may be able to get them at a lower price at other pharmacies and by using health insurance.

Injectable medications

These are GLP-1 weight loss medications, which people typically take them via injection. It is not yet clear how GLP-1 medications work, but studies have found they can help suppress a person’s appetite by slowing the time it takes to empty the stomach, thus making a person feel full for longer.

Some GLP-1 medications for weight loss include:

Wegovy

Wegovy is the branded version of semaglutide 2.4mg and has FDA approval. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. People take Wegovy as a weekly injection.

Wegovy is available from several pharmacies. Blink Health lists it for $21,138.

Ozempic

This is the branded name for semaglutide in a dose of 1mg. The FDA only approves this drug as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, but healthcare professionals may prescribe it off-label as a weight-loss medication.

Using a drug off-label means a person takes it for a purpose other than the FDA approval.

Learn more about off-label drug use.

A person takes Ozempic weekly via injection. It is available from Blink Health for $19,550.36.

Saxenda

Saxenda is the brand name of liraglutide 3mg. It has FDA approval for the treatment of chronic weight management.

A person injects this medication once per day. Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are the most common side effects.

Health insurance may cover some or all of the cost of Saxenda. However, people should always check with their insurance provider. It has a list price of $2,823.74 on Blink Health.

Mounjaro

This is the brand name for tirzepatide. Some side effects include nausea and diarrhea. The drug has FDA approval for use in type 2 diabetes but not for weight loss.

The manufacturer’s website states that although it is not a weight loss drug, people can lose between 12 and 25 pounds (lb) on average while taking Mounjaro. A person must take Mounjaro via a weekly injection.

Mounjaro is available from Blink Health for $16,031.36.

As Mounjaro does not have FDA approval as a weight loss medication, insurance companies will not usually cover it for this purpose. However, health insurance can cover Mounjaro for diabetes.

Capsule medications

Weight loss medications are also available in capsule form. One type is known as an anorectic, which works by suppressing a person’s appetite. Some capsule medications include:

Phentermine

Phentermine is available as a capsule that a person takes once daily in the morning, with or without food.

This medication has a list price of $11.64 from Blink Health. Most health insurance providers do not cover the cost of this medication.

Phentermine has FDA approval in a low dose and for short-term use for treating obesity.

Some side effects include nervousness, headaches, and dry mouth.

Qsymia

Qsymia is available as a capsule that a person takes once per day. One of the active ingredients is phentermine. The other is topiramate, which in addition to reducing appetite, may also enhance satiety.

Blink Health lists Qsymia for $200.47. Many healthcare insurers cover the cost of Qsymia.

Qsymia has FDA approval as a chronic weight management treatment.

According to the manufacturer, side effects may include dizziness, headaches, and dry mouth.

Contrave

Contrave belongs to a class of drugs known as bupropion/naltrexone. Bupropion is a type of antidepressant, whereas naltrexone is an opiate antagonist. An opiate antagonist can reduce the satisfaction a person feels when performing a certain behavior, such as eating. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, sense of taste changes, and ringing in the ears.

A person takes Contrave in tablet form once in the morning and once in the evening.

Blink Health has this medication listed at $659.12. However, insurance does not often cover the cost. Contrave has FDA approval for the treatment of weight management.

Orlistat

Orlistat is a type of drug known as lipase inhibitors. These work by reducing the amount of lipase in the stomach and decreasing fat absorption.

It is available as a capsule that a person takes three times per day with food.

A branded version of Orlistat, Xenical, is available from Blink Health for $793.32. Not all insurance plans cover the cost of this medication.

Orlistat has FDA approval for the treatment of obesity management.

The most common side effects include changes to bowel movements, oily stools, and an increase in the number of bowel movements.

Nonprescription weight loss medications

The following nonprescription options are available for weight management. A person should consult a doctor before using any OTC medications.

Alli

Alli’s active ingredient is Orlistat. However, as it is in a low dosage, it is available without a prescription.

Alli, therefore, works in the same way as Orlistat — a lipase inhibitor — which works by reducing the amount of lipase in the stomach and decreasing fat absorption.

Alli is available as a capsule that a person takes three times per day with meals.

It is available for about $70 from Walmart for a 40-day supply. As Alli contains Orlistat, some insurance providers cover the cost of this. A person should check with their health insurance provider.

Alli is the only OTC weight loss medication with FDA approval for weight management.

Garcinia cambogia extract

Garcinia cambogia extract contains the peel of the fruit. The peel is high in hydroxycitric acid, which some 2019 research states can help reduce weight gain and fat accumulation.

This product is available as a capsule, tablet, liquid, or powder. Brands will differ in dosage and frequency.

This supplement can cost around $12 for a 30-day supply.

However, the safety of this supplement is unclear. A 2018 review concludes that it may cause:

A person should exercise caution when purchasing OTC weight loss medication. The FDA advises individuals to discuss taking supplements with a healthcare professional.

All prescription weight loss medication has approval from the FDA and is typically safe to take.

A 2018 study concludes that there were no safety concerns for semaglutide prescription medication treatments for weight loss. Semaglutide medications include Wegovy and Ozempic.

Additionally, 2022 research shows that tirzepatide medications, such as Mounjaro, were safe. However, this type of medication did cause side effects, including nausea and diarrhea.

Semaglutide and tirzepatide medications are both examples of GLP-1 medications.

Alli is the only OTC weight loss medication with FDA approval. If a person wants to try a different OTC option, they should speak with a doctor beforehand.

A person can get prescription weight loss medication via a doctor if they meet certain criteria. Generally, doctors will only prescribe weight loss medication to people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over or those with a BMI of 27 or over with a weight-related health condition, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, a person may be able to receive prescription weight loss medication from an online pharmacy. Some examples of online pharmacies that offer weight loss medication include:

  • Ro: This telehealth company offers a weight loss program that includes prescription weight loss drugs alongside one-to-one personal coaching.
  • Calibrate: An online weight loss program that requests lab tests from a person before offering a doctor consultation and weight loss medication prescription, along with a diet program.
  • Blink Health: This company allows individuals to obtain a prescription after a consultation with one of its doctors. A person can collect the prescription from their local pharmacy.
  • Lemonaid: This online pharmacy offers consultations for $25. Doctors or nurses can prescribe medications to an individual, and they can collect them from their local pharmacy.

OTC medications may be available from pharmacies.

Some companies offer body programs for weight loss. This includes one-to-one coaching and guidance on lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. In addition, the company’s health professionals may also prescribe weight loss medications if necessary.

Ro’s Body Program

This is a 12-month body program that Ro claims will result in a person losing 15% of their body weight.

Its doctors will prescribe GLP-1 medication to people who fit the criteria. They do this after collecting a blood sample from an individual.

Additionally, a person will work with a personal coach who can provide guidance on nutrition, sleep, exercise, medication management, and lifestyle changes.

The medication cost is separate from the monthly fee of the program — $99 for the first month and $135 a month thereafter, excluding medication. Ro will work with the person’s insurance company on their behalf to cover the medication’s cost.

Calibrate

Calibrate requests that individuals undergo some lab tests to develop a treatment tailored to each person.

These tests are:

Following these tests, a person will have a 30-minute video call during which a doctor will discuss possible treatment plans and prescriptions.

As well as medication, Calibrate also offers personal coaching to look at a person’s diet, sleep, exercise, and emotional health habits.

The Metabolic Reset program with Calibrate is $138 each month or $1,649 in one lump sum upfront. This fee does not include the medication that can be co-paid with insurance.

The following comparison table features the prescription and OTC medications in this article.

All medication prices come from Blink Health, an online pharmacy. People may be able to find medication for cheaper by using their health insurance and visiting other pharmacies.

Prescription needed?List priceUsually covered by insurance?FDA approved?TypeFrequency of dosage
Wegovyyes$21,138yesyesinjectiononce weekly
Ozempicyes$19,550.36yesyesinjectiononce weekly
Mounjaroyes$16,931.36noyes, but only for type 2 diabetes treatmentinjectiononce weekly
Saxendayes$2,823.74yesyesinjectiononce daily
Phentermineyes$11.64noyes, for a low dose and short-term treatmentcapsuleonce daily
Qsymiayes$200.47yesyescapsuleonce daily
Contraveyes$659.12noyestabletstwice daily
Orlistatyes$793.32noyescapsule3 times per day
Allino$70 for a 40-day supplyyesyescapsule3 times per day
Garcinia cambogia extractnovaries depending on brand and typenonocapsule, tablet, liquid, or powdervaries
Rono$99 for first month, $135 a month thereafter excluding medicationyesyesbody programvaries
Calibrateno$138 a month or $1,649 upfront excluding medicationco-pay with insurance for medicationyesbody programvaries

There are many ways a person can try to lose weight without the need for weight loss medication.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggests a person can try:

  • following a healthy eating plan and reducing calorie intake
  • partaking in regular physical activity
  • setting weight goals
  • asking for support from family, friends, and healthcare professionals
  • enrolling in a weight loss program

If a person wishes to lose a large amount of weight, they should consult a healthcare professional first.

Additionally, if someone has difficulty losing weight after trying nonmedical techniques, they should talk with a doctor who may prescribe weight loss medication.

Alternatively, a doctor may recommend bariatric surgery or weight loss devices. Examples of weight loss devices include:

  • electrical stimulation system
  • gastric balloon system
  • gastric emptying system

A person should contact a medical professional if they experience any side effects when taking weight loss medication.

Below, we answer some common questions about weight loss medication.

Which medicines are best for weight loss?

Prescription medications with FDA approval are the safest options for weight loss. However, the most effective medication will differ between individuals. People should work with a licensed healthcare professional to determine the best weight loss plan for their goals and overall health.

Is there a drug I can take to lose weight?

There are various medications available that may help a person lose weight. They may suppress a person’s appetite or make them feel fuller more quickly. Options available on prescription include Wegovy and Ozempic.

However, a doctor may not prescribe these medications to everyone. A person should always consult a healthcare professional before taking weight loss medication.

Can I ask my doctor for weight loss pills?

A person can ask a doctor for weight loss medication. A doctor can prescribe them if the person has a BMI of 30 or over or a BMI of 27 or over and a weight-related health condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

If a person does not meet the criteria for a weight loss medication prescription, insurance may not cover the drugs, and a doctor can suggest alternative ways to lose weight.

Can weight loss medication replace diet and exercise?

A person should use weight loss medications in addition to diet management and exercise. Working with a healthcare professional to help meet an individual’s weight loss goals is preferable.

Prescription weight loss medication is available for some individuals. Some medications suppress appetite, while others decrease fat absorption.

Some OTC medications are also available. However, only one nonprescription medication has approval from the FDA. A person should consult a healthcare professional before taking any weight loss medication.