Aspirational Pneumonia Risk Linked to Ozempic, Wegovy and Other GLP-1 Medications During Endoscopy Procedures: Study

Findings align with warnings issued by anesthesiologists last summer about Ozempic aspiration risks, following reports of life-threatening problems caused by delayed gastric emptying during surgery.

As the popularity of Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro and similar drugs continues to increase, due to the substantial weight loss benefits, a new study highlights concerns that the entire class of medications may lead to the development of severe and life-threatening aspiration during surgery.

Researchers from Cedar-Sinai Hospital warn that patients taking drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy should cease using them before undergoing endoscopic procedures, due to an increased risk of post-operative aspiration pneumonia. Their findings were published late last month in the medical journal Gastroenterology.

Aspiration pneumonia occurs when food or liquids make their way into the lungs or airways, leading to lung infections. Between 11% and 30% of patients die from complications due to the condition, according to health experts.

GLP-1 Health Concerns

Ozempic (semaglutide) was initially introduced for the treatment of people with Type 2 diabetes. However, amid aggressive advertisements that promoted the weight loss benefits, Ozempic has been increasingly prescribed as a diet drug in recent years, making it a blockbuster treatment that is now used by millions of Americans.

As a result of the popularity of Ozempic for weight loss, Novo Nordisk has introduced a higher dose version under the brand name Wegovy, which is specifically approved as a diet drug. However, it contains the same active ingredient.

Eli Lilly’s competing drugs includes Mounjaro (tirzepatide), approved for diabetes treatment in 2022, and a weight loss version of the drug approved by the FDA last year, marketed under the brand name Zepbound.

Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro abd Zepbound belong to a class of medications known as glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs), which have been linked to incidents of stomach paralysis, known as gastroparesis, in which food lingers in the stomach, leading to a number of different health complications.

Although advertisements promote the drugs as safe and effective, with few long-term side effects, former users are now pursuing Ozempic lawsuitsWegovy lawsuits and Mounjaro lawsuits against the manufacturers, each raising similar allegations that the drug labels fail to adequately warn about the gastrointestinal risks associated with the medications.

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Lawyers are pursuing Ozempic lawsuits, Wegovy lawsuits and Mounjaro lawsuits over gastroparesis or stomach paralysis, which can leave users with long-term gastrointestinal side effects

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This latest study involved an analysis of data on nearly 1 million U.S. patients who underwent endoscopy procedures, during which a tube-like medical device, known as an endoscope, is placed down a patient’s throat to look at the insides of the body, particularly the stomach, throat and small intestines.

According to the findings, researchers warn that the stomach paralysis side effects of Ozempic and similar medications can result in retention of food in the stomach, leading to nausea and vomiting. If the stomach is not clear of food before an endoscopy procedure, that material could increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia, particularly since they are given anesthesia before such procedures.

The researchers indicate that there is a 0.8% risk of aspiration pneumonia for those taking GLP-1 RAs, which can be reduced by 33% if patients stop taking the medication prior to the procedure. These risks are significantly higher for those patients than for their peers who do not take drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro before the procedure, they determined.

Although the study did not analyze age factors in-depth, the researchers also raised concerns that older patients are more at risk, due to a weaker esophageal sphincter than their younger counterparts, which increases the risk of vomiting.

GLP-1 Aspiration Risks During Surgery

The study’s findings come after a July 2023 warning issued by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, regarding potential Ozempic surgical aspiration risks, which indicated that patients should stop taking GLP-1 drugs before any medical procedure involving anesthesia. The warning indicated the drugs carry an increased risk of regurgitation and aspiration of food while under deep sedation.

The Society recommended patients should not take GLP-1 RAs the day before a surgery involving anesthesia if they take it on a daily basis. If they receive injections every week, they should cease such injections a week before the procedure. The recommendations also indicated patients should consult with an endocrinologist if they are using the drugs to control their diabetes and have to stop before a surgical procedure of any kind.

A study published later that year, in October 2023, found that Ozempic triples the risk of the stomach paralysis among users when compared to users of non-injectable weight loss drugs. The research compared the gastrointestinal side effects of Ozempic and other injectable GLP-1 agonists like liraglutide (Victoza and Saxenda) against those experienced by users of Contrave (bupropion-naltrexone), an oral weight management medication.

The findings indicated that about 1% of Ozempic users developed stomach paralysis, compared to 0.7% of liraglutide users and around 0.3% of those on Contrave. The study highlighted that injectable semaglutide and liraglutide were significantly more likely to cause stomach paralysis and bowel obstruction than Contrave.

April 2024 Ozempic Stomach Paralysis Lawsuit Update

Given common questions of fact and law being presented in stomach paralysis claims being pursued against the makers of Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro throughout the federal court system, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided to centralize all GLP-1 lawsuits in February, transferring complaints filed nationwide to U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

As lawyers continue to review and file claims in the coming months, it is widely expected that thousands of lawsuits will be transferred to the GLP-1 MDL, as nearly 2% of the U.S. population has been prescribed one of the GLP-1 medications, either for diabetes treatment or weight loss.

To help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation, Judge Pratter will likely establish a bellwether process to prepare a small group of gastroparesis lawsuits for early trial dates. However, if the parties are unable to negotiate Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy settlements or another resolution for the litigation after the bellwether trials, the Court may later remand each case back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for trial.

Image Credit: Ole - stock.adobe.com

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