March 22, 2024

Study: Weight loss drugs could increase risk of surgical complications

Editor's Note

Popular weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro could lead to complications in surgical procedures, according to study published March 6 in the journal JAMA Surgery. 

The study focused on drugs known as glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs) which are used to treat diabetes and obesity. The drugs, which include Ozempic, Mounjaro and Zepbound, work by simulating a gut-secreted hormone that slows digestion, increases insulin, and drives the sensation of being full. The drugs also delay gastric emptying. As a result, patients taking these drugs are more likely to have solids and liquids in their stomachs during surgical procedures, even if they are following standard fasting recommendations. This poses a significant risk factor for pulmonary aspiration under anesthesia.

The study included 124 patients scheduled for an elective surgery, half of whom were prescribed a GLP-1 RA. Using gastric ultrasound, the researchers examined patients’ stomach content prior to anesthesia. More than half (56%) of patients using GLP-1 RAs had increased amounts of gastric content, compared with 19% of the control group. 

The researchers determined that taking GLP-1 RAs carries a 30% increased likelihood of residual gastric content compared to the control group. These findings suggest that more research is needed to determine whether patients on these drugs are safe to undergo surgery following existing fasting recommendations. 


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