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New Studies Reveal Increased Risk of Stomach Paralysis with Diabetes and Obesity Medications


Recent research has unveiled a concerning link between popular diabetes and obesity medications, specifically GLP-1 agonists, and an increased risk of a rare but serious side effect: stomach paralysis, or gastroparesis. This discovery is based on three new studies utilizing large collections of patient records, which collectively indicate that the risk of developing gastroparesis is higher for those taking these medications compared to those who do not.

Understanding GLP-1 Agonists


GLP-1 agonists are injectable medications that have gained significant popularity due to their effectiveness in promoting weight loss. These drugs, including well-known names like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Zepbound, help individuals lose a substantial percentage of their starting weight by curbing hunger, slowing the passage of food through the stomach, and enhancing insulin release. Additionally, they have been shown to provide cardiovascular benefits. However, the slowing of food passage through the stomach, which helps control appetite, can sometimes lead to severe gastrointestinal issues.

The Connection to Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a condition where the stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal fashion, leading to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain. While this condition can sometimes improve after stopping the medication, there are instances where the effects persist, leading to long-term, life-altering consequences.

The new studies, though preliminary and not yet published in peer-reviewed medical journals, present a consistent finding: the use of GLP-1 medications is associated with a higher incidence of gastroparesis. Presented at the Digestive Disease Week 2024 conference in Washington, these studies shed light on a significant yet previously underreported risk.

Key Findings from the Studies


University Hospitals in Cleveland Study

This study used data from the TriNetX database, encompassing records from over 286,000 patients.

Researchers found that among obese individuals without a prior diagnosis of diabetes or gastroparesis, those taking GLP-1 medications had a 52% higher risk of developing gastroparesis compared to those not on these drugs.

Specifically, 10 out of every 10,000 people on GLP-1 medications were diagnosed with gastroparesis, compared to 4 out of 10,000 in the control group.

University of Kansas Study

Analyzing nearly 300,000 patient records, this study compared individuals prescribed GLP-1 medications for diabetes or obesity with those who were not.

The findings indicated that people on GLP-1 medications were 66% more likely to be diagnosed with gastroparesis.

This study also noted an increased incidence of other gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in those taking GLP-1 medications.

Mayo Clinic Study

This study examined nearly 80,000 patients in the Mayo Clinic health system who had been prescribed GLP-1 medications.

Among a subset of 839 individuals with symptoms of gastroparesis, about one-third were diagnosed with the condition using gastric emptying scintigraphy, a gold-standard test.

Although the study did not calculate the comparative risk between users and non-users of GLP-1 medications, it highlighted the severity of the condition among those affected.

Implications for Patients and Healthcare Providers

These findings are particularly concerning given the widespread use of GLP-1 medications. While the benefits of these drugs for weight loss and diabetes management are well-documented, the potential for serious side effects like gastroparesis necessitates careful consideration by healthcare providers and patients.

Dr. Prateek Sharma, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and president-elect of the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, emphasizes the importance of weighing the benefits against the risks. 

Given the preliminary nature of these studies, more research is needed to fully understand the scope and mechanisms behind the increased risk of gastroparesis. Dr. Michael Camilleri, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, notes that traditional methods of studying gastric emptying might have overlooked this risk due to their focus on liquid rather than solid food processing.

Future studies should aim to use more comprehensive testing methods and larger patient populations to better identify and mitigate the risks associated with GLP-1 medications.

The newly uncovered link between GLP-1 agonists and an increased risk of gastroparesis highlights the complexity of managing diabetes and obesity with medication. While these drugs offer significant benefits, patients and healthcare providers must remain vigilant about potential side effects. Ongoing research and careful monitoring are essential to ensure that the benefits of these medications continue to outweigh the risks.

Have you ever used weight loss drugs? What was your experience like? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.