Ozempic® vs Bariatric Surgery: Which Is Right for You?

Three plus-sized woman in brown and pink workout clothing are huddled together laughing and smiling. (Models)

If you are finding it difficult to lose significant weight on your own and considering bariatric surgery, you might be wondering if the new generation of weight loss medications, such as Ozempic and Wegovy®, are effective alternatives. The question is worth exploring in detail to ensure you feel comfortable making this important personal decision.

To a certain extent, the new weight loss medications earned their hype. Ozempic is technically a diabetes drug, but its active ingredient, semaglutide, is approved for weight loss under the brand name Wegovy. Clinical studies show a weekly injection can reduce a person’s total body weight by about 15%. That’s significant but doesn’t come close to the results produced by bariatric surgery. Weight loss surgery patients typically shed between 40% and 70% of their excess weight.

How Does Weight Loss Medication Work?

Even though people now consider drugs such as Ozempic to be weight loss medications, it’s important to remember they were initially developed to treat Type 2 diabetes. The medication encourages the body to make additional insulin to address increasing blood sugar levels after a meal or snack. It also reduces feelings of hunger by slowing digestion.

Studies of their long-term effectiveness and side effects are ongoing. However, an October 2023 study found that people using GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic were at greater risk for pancreatitis, gastroparesis, and bowel obstruction.

Challenges associated with using weight loss medications include:

  • Treatment with drugs like Ozempic requires life-long commitment because discontinuing the medication will often lead to weight regain. This means you must take the medication for the long term, which can be financially costly and result in physical side effects.
  • Patients may face side effects, including nausea, reflux, abdominal cramping, delayed gastric emptying, and constipation, which might affect their ability or willingness to continue treatment. Severe side effects include serious conditions such as gastroparesis.
  • The high price of medications like Ozempic poses a financial barrier for many individuals, limiting access to this treatment option for some people. The long-term cost must also be considered, as regaining the weight is likely when the medication is stopped.

How Much Does Ozempic Cost vs. Weight Loss Surgery?

The cost of weight loss medications in Canada can vary, but it usually amounts to hundreds of dollars a month. That adds up quickly. If you stay on a semaglutide weight loss medication for 5 years, you could spend about $18,000 or more. In addition, obesity is a chronic condition, and patients prescribed Wegovy or a similar weight loss medication should expect to take it for the rest of their lives.

Because we have no long-term studies for the medications, it’s unclear whether there might be serious complications or side effects of using semaglutide for weight loss. Time and further study will tell.

That’s why bariatric surgery is more cost-effective over time; it is a proven one-time procedure with a lifetime of benefits for patients with obesity. With weight loss surgery, patients often experience sustained weight loss and resolution of obesity-related health conditions. This potentially reduces the need for lifelong medication and health care expenses associated with obesity-related comorbidities. SmartShape also offers financing options for patients.

Your Weight Loss Surgery Options

Weight loss surgery is a class of procedures, such as the gastric sleeve and mini gastric bypass. These operations increase satiety and curb hunger, making them a very effective treatment for weight loss and blood sugar control. Bariatric patients are often able to reduce their diabetes medications soon after leaving the hospital, and as they lose weight, they’ll see additional improvement in other conditions. Sleep apnea, high cholesterol, joint pain, and hypertension can improve quickly after surgery.

While there are risks to any surgery, weight loss surgery has been proven to improve quality of life and reduce mortality. In other words, it can help people live better and longer lives and alleviate weight-related medical conditions.

For many people, this improvement in health and quality of life opens up a whole new world where they can run around with their kids in the backyard or even improve their chances of having children. They can tackle new challenges with more self-confidence and energy. They can live longer, happier lives and enjoy seeing their kids grow up. These benefits can be priceless.

What About Side Effects?

Both weight loss surgery and medication have side effects, and it’s important to understand the risks before making a choice. Semaglutide can cause vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea in up to 75% of patients, and high-dose semaglutide doesn’t have safety studies that go beyond the 3-year mark. A recent observational study found that Ozempic and Wegovy may be associated with an increased risk of serious gastrointestinal conditions.

As for bariatric surgery, most patients tolerate it well and recover rapidly. Numerous studies have examined the long-term safety of the procedures beyond 10 years. Severe complications and mortality risk are both low for qualified patients.

Because weight loss surgery procedures are usually done laparoscopically, the incisions are small, which allows for relatively quick healing. The GI side effects of weight loss surgeries are low. For example, patients who undergo the gastric sleeve procedure may have a 15% to 20% higher than average risk of developing acid reflux, a highly treatable condition.

Comparing Long-Term Results

The metabolic effects of bariatric surgery are permanent, although patients often regain some weight 5 to 10 years after their surgery. It’s rare, however, for a patient to regain all of their preoperative weight following a successful bariatric surgery. Semaglutide medications don’t provide that same permanence. Patients risk regaining most, if not all, of their weight once they stop taking the medications and do not adopt better nutritional and exercise habits.

Which Treatment Is Right for You?

The most effective treatment for long-term, sustained weight loss is still bariatric surgery. Most people lose significantly more weight with weight loss surgery than they do with semaglutide, and they’re also more likely to keep it off.

If you choose to have weight loss surgery, you can achieve long-term, sustainable weight loss. Choosing weight loss medication, though, will likely result in rebound weight gain when stopping the medication. You may have to take it for the rest of your life to avoid weight gain.

It’s important to know that there is currently no data on the long-term use of semaglutide for weight loss. Doctors don’t know if it will stop working or if it’s even safe to take it on a long-term basis at a high dosage.

With weight loss surgery, you have a team at SmartShape who is dedicated to helping you lose weight sustainably so you can embark on a new chapter in your life. As you make permanent lifestyle changes to achieve your weight loss goals, our 5-Year AfterCare Success team is here to guide and support you–helping you become a slimmer, healthier, more energetic, and self-confident version of yourself.

Are You a Good Bariatric Surgery Candidate?

Bariatric surgery is an excellent option for suitable patients. You can read more about what you need to know about weight loss surgery requirements in one of our recent blog posts.

Speak to one of our expert bariatric surgeons for free to see if weight loss surgery is right for you. Call SmartShape at (888) 278-7952 or request a consultation using the online form to get started.