Does Ozempic Cause Blindness? New Global Alert Raising Alarms of Long-Term Use of the Weight Loss Drug

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jul 05, 2024

A new study from Mass General Brigham has discovered a long-term link between diabetes and weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy to a heightened risk of stroke to the optic nerve, meaning that using popular semaglutide drugs can result in permanent blindness.

The recent popularity of these types of drugs for weight-loss has caused several side effects like “Ozempic face” and unintended pregnancies. However, this new study could mean the drug may not be as safe as previously thought.

The Ozempic Craze

Last year, rumours began to swirl about several high-profile celebrities using the diabetic drug Ozempic to lose weight. Oprah Winfrey, Kelly Osborne and Mindy Kaling have all fessed up to using the injectable medication.

A faceless woman preparing to inject her stomach with Ozempic

Source: Adobe Stock

When fans of these celebs found out that getting the medication was as easy as asking a doctor and paying the high price-tag, many jumped at the change for a quick way to reduce body fat.

Rare Condition for Users of the Drug

The research team at Massachusetts General Hospital discovered a link between users of semaglutide drugs, such as Ozempic and Wegovy, and a rare condition called NAOIN.

A man with small round glasses and short brown hair lays in a hospital bed

Source: Alexander Grey/Unsplash

Those using the drug for weight loss were more likely to contract the condition than those who use the medication for its intended use, like diabetes control and insulin resistance.

Not a Cause but a Link

Although the researchers found a strong link between users of the injectable medication and the new condition, they caution that they don’t think that Ozempic necessarily causes the illness.

A box of Ozempic. The box shows a look of the pen, which is purple with a red and white label on it, and states the dose of 0.5mg.

Source: Good Morning America/YouTube

Instead, they say that the use of a semaglutide increases the change of developing NAION.

More Research Is Needed on Side Effects

Dr. Joseph Rizzo, the director of neuro-ophthalmology at Mass General’s Bringham’s Mass Eye and Ear department, said that this is the first link from the drugs to this rare condition.

Three men wearing suits while one accepts an award

Source: @Wills_Eye/X

He also stated, “I would take it as a serious, cautionary bit of information—the kind of information that should be used by physicians in discussion with their patients.” He also said that those who were already at risk for developing NAION could contract it more easily on the medication.

Makers of Ozempic Say They Did Not Establish the Risk

The maker of Ozempc and Wegovy, Novo Nordisk, a Danish company, said in a statement that it takes safety reports very seriously as a pharmaceutical company.

A small vial of medication with two orange syringes

Source: @DrEricDing/X

The press release also noted that the company has not previously established any “causal association” between the medication and the condition. However, the drug has only been used en masse recently by non-diabetics, so more surprising side effects are likely to arise.


Other Strange Ozempic Side Effects

Another strange side effect that many people have experienced when using Ozempic is an unexpected pregnancy after years of infertility. As well, women taking hormonal birth control say that using the drug caused the medication to fail and become pregnant.

A woman is pictured looking at a pregnancy test with a worried face

Source: Freepik

More research is needed to discover the full impact of Ozempic on women’s reproductive systems.


What is NAION?

The rare condition recently discovered in Ozempic patients is called nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION for short. It affects about 2 to 10 out of 100,000 people.

A man using a walking cane to reach a small flight of steps

Source: CDC/Unsplash

The condition causes a small stroke fro reduced blood flow to the optic nerve and causes tissue damage. It is the second most common cause of blindness from nerve damage, second only to glaucoma.


What Did the Study Find?

The study at Mass Gen found that 17 patients out of 194 people with diabetes on a semaglutide had NAION, while 20 patients taking the medication contracted the illness out of 361 patients who were taking it for weight-related issues.

The exterior of a large modern hospital

Source: @lutherpool/X

There is also a strong link between taking Ozempic on its own and developing NAION and not contracting it without additional medication.


Unknown Long-Term Effects

Because the use of the drug is so new, many researchers have no idea of the physical and mental implications of the medication.

Two hands hold and Ozempic injection

Source: Adobe Stock

As of now, it has been found that many patients using the drug for weight loss have hit an “Ozempic wall” where they hit a plateau in their progress.


How Does Ozempic Work?

Ozempic uses a medication that mimics a certain hormone. When used for diabetes, it produces more insulin, which reduces blood sugar (glucose).

A woman standing on a bathroom scale

Source: I Yunmai/Unsplash

It has a similar effect when used for weight loss, but only for people who already produce enough insulin. The result is a drastically reduced appetite, as the blood sugar remains higher for longer, making a person feel less hunger cues and less fatigue when dieting.


Will Doctors Caution the Use of Ozempic?

Currently, Novo Nordisk does not list a connection between their drug and NAION on the side effects.

Two doctors go over the information in a laboratory

Source: Freepik

Until more research can be done, it is unclear whether doctors will continue to prescribe the medication for weight loss. However, doctors at Mass Gen are convinced that the connection they spotted means a direct cause-and-effect relationship, and more doctors should note the condition.