Weight loss drug linked to higher risk of developing rare eye condition

A study has found patients prescribed semaglutide had a higher risk of developing nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy

White tablets spill from a white plastic container that is on its side on a wooden table

New research published in JAMA Ophthalmology has explored the link between taking the weight loss medication, semaglutide, and developing a rare eye condition.

In a retrospective matched cohort study involving 16,827 patients, scientists found that those prescribed semaglutide had quadruple the risk of developing nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION) compared to those who did not take the medication.

The Mass Eye and Ear researchers have highlighted that further work is still needed to determine causality. The patients included in the study were either overweight or obese, or had type 2 diabetes.

Study lead, Dr Joseph Rizzo, highlighted that the use of semaglutide – which is marketed as as Ozempic or Wegovy – has “exploded throughout industrialised countries.”

“They have provided very significant benefits in many ways, but future discussions between a patient and their physician should include NAION as a potential risk,” he said.

“It is important to appreciate, however, that the increased risk relates to a disorder that is relatively uncommon,” he added.

NAION occurs in up to 10 out of 100,000 people in the general population, and is the second-leading cause of optic nerve blindness (the first is glaucoma).