Popular weight loss medication can also help those with cardiovascular disease

The demand for weight loss medications is skyrocketing across the country.

While initially approved for treatment of diabetes, the drug Semaglutide – now sold under various brand names – has now been approved for people with cardiovascular disease who have obesity or are overweight.

The director of preventive cardiology at the University of Michigan, says the medications are a promising option for many patients.

"Except for the last few years, or even shorter since the most recent trials have come out, we haven't had good treatments to manage obesity that have large weight loss outside of surgical approaches," said Dr. Eric Jerome Brandt. "Now that we have these medications that can drastically lower weight, but also lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, we're in a new era of medicine with very good therapies to apply to those with unhealthy body weight."

Semaglutide is one of the drugs known as a GLP agonist and works by mimicking a hormone that occurs in the gut that reduces feelings of hunger and may change how much a person desires food over time.

In a clinical trial, semaglutide was found to reduce the risk of a high-risk person having a heart attack or stroke by around 20 percent.

Still, Brandt says there is much to learn about these medications.

"Over time, we're going to learn even more about the nuances of exactly who should be treated with them," he said. "(And) how long someone should stay on these medications, and whether they need to stay on them for the long term. The thing with unhealthy body weight is, we haven't had great medical therapy for them.

"But now that we have these agents, we have good treatments to help to treat an unhealthy body weight. and for some people that might mean staying on these medications for the long term."

It's important to realize just how much what you eat and what you weigh impact your risk of heart disease.

"Sustained weight loss, whether that's with medications or without medications, can drastically improve one's risk for heart disease," Brandt said. "And that's because not only does decreased weight loss help to lower one's risk, but decreased weight loss often comes with improved blood pressure control, lower cholesterol, and also the lower risk for diabetes or better management of diabetes if you're already diagnosed.

"So, decreasing one's weight is tied to many other risk factors that also contribute to heart disease."

Brandt says sustained weight loss, with or without medications, can improve multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Still life of Wegovy an injectable prescription weight loss medicine that has helped people with obesity. It should be used with a weight loss plan and physical activity. (Photo by: Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)