Ozempic is a prescription drug that’s been all over the news in the past year. Although it’s a type 2 diabetes drug, Ozempic has been widely touted as a weight-loss cure. It’s been rumored to be used by big-name celebs off label as a weight-loss drug and gained so much cultural capital that it earned a name-drop at the Oscars.
You may be less familiar with the name Wegovy, but it’s actually the same medication as Ozempic — semaglutide — and unlike Ozempic, Wegovy is FDA-approved as a treatment for weight loss.
Of course, so much of the information we’re getting about these medications is via social media and celeb interviews, which aren’t the most reliable sources of facts. What’s more, some online prescription companies are marketing both Wegovy and Ozempic the same way, as quick-fix weight-loss drugs. But the truth is, they aren’t the same, and it’s important to understand the differences between Wegovy and Ozempic, especially if you’re interested in exploring the medication for yourself.
So we asked doctors to break down the differences and similarities of Wegovy and Ozempic, including what they are, how they’re used, what they’re approved to do, and how much they cost.
Wegovy vs. Ozempic: Similarities
The most major commonality between Wegovy and Ozempic is the main active ingredient. Both drugs are made with semaglutide, a medication primarily used for people with diabetes but that also affects weight.
Since they use the same medication, they work the same way, says Christopher McGowan, MD, a board-certified doctor in gastroenterology and obesity medicine. They fall under a class of drugs known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, which are often used in the treatment of diabetes, notes Mayo Clinic.
In people with type 2 diabetes, semaglutide increases the amount of insulin in the body, helping them break down food, Bayo Curry-Winchell, MD, urgent-care medical director and physician at Carbon Health and Saint Mary’s Hospital, previously told POPSUGAR.
But GLP-1 also acts on the hunger centers in the hypothalamus to reduce appetite and boost satiety, Dr. McGowan says. “Semaglutide acts directly on the stomach to delay emptying, leading to a prolonged sense of fullness and satiation,” he explains. In that way, it can help people lose weight.
Wegovy and Ozempic are also both injections. Typically, it’s injected once per week on the stomach, thighs, or upper arms, per Mayo Clinic.
Between Wegovy and Ozempic, you may wonder which is better for weight loss. According to a 2021 clinical trial, semaglutide is more effective for weight loss at dosages of 2.4 mg compared to 1.0 mg. Wegovy may have an advantage since it’s taken at a higher dose.
Wegovy vs. Ozempic: Differences
“Ozempic and Wegovy are the same medication but with different maximum strengths and different labeling, packaging, indications, and insurance coverage,” Dr. McGowan says.
The biggest differences between the two drugs is that they contain different dosages of semaglutide and they’re approved for different things.
The maximum dose strength for Wegovy is 2.4 mg, but it usually starts at 0.25 mg per week and gradually increases, according to the Wegovy website.
Ozempic has a slightly smaller maximum dose of 2.0 mg. It’s also started at a lower dose of 0.25 mg or 0.5 mg weekly, per Ozempic’s website.
“Both medications are slowly increased over a period of three to five months to allow for accommodation to the medication and its potential side effects,” Dr. McGowan explains.
The different dosages mean they’re best suited for different things. “Ozempic was FDA-approved in 2017 for patients with type 2 diabetes,” says Michael Glickman, MD, a board-certified family medicine and obesity medicine physician. According to the FDA, Ozempic improves blood-sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes. It’s designed to be used alongside diet and exercise.
Importantly, Ozempic is not a weight-loss drug, and in the US, it’s not approved to be used for weight loss for people without type 2 diabetes. When other medications haven’t controlled blood sugar well enough, Ozempic may be prescribed, according to the National Library of Medicine. That said, many doctors are prescribing it off-label as a weight-loss medication.
Wegovy, on the other hand, is approved specifically for weight loss for adults with a BMI at or above 30 or for those with a BMI at or above 27 who also have a weight-related medical condition such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. Per the FDA, people taking Wegovy should also adopt a diet and exercise regimen.
Wegovy vs. Ozempic: Side Effects
Both Ozempic and Wegovy have a variety of possible side effects, and many of them overlap.
“The most common side effects are digestive in nature and are directly related to the mechanism of action,” Dr. McGowan says. “Because semaglutide drastically delays stomach emptying, food can remain in the stomach for extended periods of time.” This can help you feel full longer, but it’s also why digestive symptoms are so common.
The following side effects of semaglutide are most common:
- Upset stomach
Rare side effects may also occur. These include pancreatitis, thyroid cancer, gallbladder disease, and kidney injuries, per Cleveland Clinic.
The side effects for Wegovy and Ozempic are almost identical, but they may be more likely with Wegovy since it’s available at a higher dosage.
Wegovy vs. Ozempic: Cost
Wegovy will run you about $1,627 per month before insurance, while Ozempic starts at $950, according to GoodRx. The total cost to individuals, however, will depend on insurance coverage and whether you qualify for savings.
To get either covered by insurance, you must meet all eligibility criteria, which means you must have the medical conditions each is respectively FDA-approved for.
In other words, “insurance will only cover Ozempic for patients with diabetes and Wegovy for patients with obesity,” Dr. McGowan says. So when someone is prescribed either of these medications off label — meaning it’s given to them despite not meeting the criteria for use — it won’t be eligible for insurance coverage.
Is Wegovy or Ozempic Right For You?
So much attention is being paid to these drugs — but much of it is for suspect reasons. To put it frankly, quick-fix diet cures don’t exist, and the fact that Wegovy and Ozempic are being touted as such is reason for concern.
In fact, the demand for the off-label use of these drugs has grown so much, it’s become difficult for people who really need the medications to get them, Dr. McGowan says: “This was a disastrous situation that put patients’ health at risk.”
Ultimately, he says, “Ozempic is for patients with type 2 diabetes. Wegovy is for patients with obesity. Neither is for cosmetic use, short-term use, or for those who only need to lose a few pounds.”