Better Me

Weight Loss Medications: What Are Your Options?

Are you on a weight loss journey but struggling to see the results you desire? You’re not alone.

Many people need help shedding excess pounds despite their best efforts through diet and exercise. If you’ve wondered whether medication could be the missing piece in your weight loss puzzle, you’ve come to the right place. 

A growing number of weight loss drugs may help, but finding the best treatment for you can be challenging. With the help of Edward Vo, MD, a bariatric medicine specialist with Banner – University Medicine, we explore the world of weight loss medications, how they work, who can benefit from them and how they may fit into your overall weight loss strategy. 

Understanding weight loss medications

Weight loss medications (also known as anti-obesity medications) are prescribed drugs that help you lose weight when used together with a balanced diet and regular exercise. 

It’s important to address the idea that weight loss drugs are a quick and easy way to get ready for a special event or look a certain way. These medications are not meant for that. 

“Weight loss medications are prescribed for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher or a BMI of 27 or higher with health issues related to weight, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease,” Dr. Vo said. “Treating obesity often involves using multiple medications tailored to your specific needs.”

Weight loss medications aren’t a quick fix and shouldn’t be used for cosmetic reasons. The ultimate goal of these medicines is to reduce the risk of weight related health conditions and improve overall health. “Even a small reduction of 5% of body weight can lead to dramatic improvements in health and metabolic conditions,” Dr. Vo noted.

How do weight loss medications work?

Weight loss medications work in many different ways. Some are used short-term (less than 12 weeks), while others are designed for long term use. 

“Prescription weight loss medications work in one or more of the following ways: to decrease appetite, control cravings and/or stop your body from absorbing some fats, which means fewer calories are taken in,” Dr. Vo said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following prescription drugs to help with weight management:

  • Tirzepatide (Zepbound)
  • Semaglutide (Wegovy)
  • Orlistat (Xenical, Alli)
  • Naltrexone (Contrave)
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda)
  • Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)

Sometimes, health care providers may also prescribe certain medications off-label, meaning the medications are used to treat conditions or symptoms that are not officially approved by the FDA. Prescribing medicines off-label is legal and allows providers to customize treatments for each patient. 

Some examples of drugs that are used off-label for weight loss include:

  • Wellbutrin
  • Ozempic
  • Topamax
  • Metformin
  • Adipex-P
  • Lomaira

How effective and safe are weight loss medicines?

Weight loss medication can be helpful for some people, but it is not magic. The best predictor of whether or not you can sustain weight loss is if you can maintain lifestyle modifications like a healthy diet and exercise.

“Instead of looking at the role diet and exercise play alongside medications, we should shift our mindset to the role medication plays in support of lifestyle modifications,” Dr. Vo said. “If you are unable to stick with lifestyle changes due to overwhelming cravings, then you may benefit from these medications as they can quiet this mental hunger and make it easier to make the right lifestyle choices.”

Just like any other medication, there is always a possibility of risk and side effects. Common side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth or insomnia. In addition, certain medications may have severe side effects for those with specific medical conditions like a history of thyroid cancer, pancreatitis, seizures and uncontrolled blood pressure.

“Your provider will consider your medical history to produce a safe and effective treatment plan,” Dr. Vo said.

Which is better: weight loss medication or weight loss surgery?

The choice between weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) and weight loss medications depends on many factors, but both are tools you can utilize to optimize your health. Ultimately, the decision between the two should be made with your health care provider, who can help you weigh the risks and benefits of each option.

“In some cases, you can improve your health by losing weight with medication; in other cases, the patient may require additional assistance with surgery,” Dr. Vo said. “Sometimes, you may need medication after surgery to sustain weight loss. The strategy you use to lose weight is always a personalized plan.”


Weight loss medications can be a helpful part of your journey to a healthier weight, especially if you've struggled with diet and exercise alone. But remember, they're just one piece of the puzzle. To reach your goals and stay healthy, combine them with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

By taking a holistic approach and working with your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist, you can find the right balance of healthy habits and weight loss medication to help you reach your goals and feel your best. 

For more weight-loss tips, check out:

Pharmacy Weight Loss Wellness