How Taking Ozempic Can Affect Your Kidney Health

Semaglutide, also known as Ozempic, works to lower blood sugar in people living with type 2 diabetes and can minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is also used under the brand name Wegovy for weight loss.

As with any drug, Ozempic comes with certain side effects. Per Novo Nordisk, common side effects of Ozempic include such things as abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, or nausea. Although you should talk to your doctor about these side effects, you can eat bland foods or soups to ease nausea. It's also best to avoid greasy or sweet foods and lie down after you eat while taking Ozempic.

Ozempic also has more serious side effects such as changes in vision, low blood sugar, and inflammation of your pancreas. Taking Ozempic also could cause thyroid tumors; so any swelling of your neck, shortness of breath, or trouble swallowing should be reported to your doctor. If you're thinking of taking Ozempic, you should talk to your doctor if you have a history of diabetic retinopathy or if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Any problems with your pancreas or kidneys should be noted before taking Ozempic. Ozempic can aggravate kidney issues because you can become dehydrated from the common side effects of diarrhea and vomiting.

Kidney problems while taking Ozempic

According to a 2021 article in Kidney Medicine, Ozempic had higher rates of acute kidney injury compared to other drugs during a placebo during Ozempic's phase 3b trials. The article also described two people whose chronic kidney disease worsened after taking semaglutide. The researchers recommended that people who already have kidney disease should be careful while taking Ozempic.

However, other studies showed different outcomes on kidney health. A 2020 study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology looked at the kidney function of 8,416 patients who took semaglutide and didn't find any increases in kidney issues. According to a 2023 study in Diabetes Care, 1,205 patients with overweight/obesity and type 2 diabetes took Ozempic and didn't experience any decline in their kidney function.

A 2022 study in Clinical Kidney Journal tracked 122 patients with type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease. While taking Ozempic, the patients had reduced signs of kidney disease.

The prevalence of kidney disease

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 1 out of 3 adults in the United States is at risk for kidney disease, and 37 million people have kidney disease but may not know it. 

Diabetes and high blood pressure put you at a higher risk for kidney disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your kidneys are critical in filtering waste from your blood and creating urine. If you have chronic kidney disease, your kidneys don't work the way they should. Over time, waste begins to build up in your body. You'll need dialysis or a kidney transplant if your kidneys fail.

If you have chronic kidney disease, you might not have symptoms at first. When the disease progresses, you could experience edema, where your lower extremities can swell because your body can't get rid of the excess water. People with advanced forms of chronic kidney disease could experience chest pain, headaches, fatigue, or trouble concentrating.

You can keep your kidneys healthy by managing other chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat (or fat-free) dairy products will help manage other chronic conditions and improve your kidney health. Staying active and keeping a healthy weight will also keep your body healthy.

According to WebMD, Ozempic is contraindicated with chronic kidney disease if you have decreased kidney function. You should speak with your physician for advice if you are considering using this medication.

Acute kidney injury can occur quickly

The National Kidney Foundation describes acute kidney injury (or acute renal failure) as an illness that can come about in a few hours or a few days. It occurs when your kidneys can't maintain the balance of fluid in your body and a build-up of waste occurs. Acute kidney injury can occur in older adults or while patients are in the hospital or intensive-care units.

Acute kidney injury might not have symptoms, but symptoms may include swelling in the legs and ankles, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, or chest pain. Sometimes acute kidney injury is found during a test from your doctor such as measuring your urine output, a blood test, or imaging tests. Treatment for acute kidney injury typically involves a visit to the hospital.

Although Ozempic was connected to two cases of acute kidney injury, there are other causes for this condition. Decreased blood flow to your kidneys from high blood pressure, heart attack, overusing pain medication, and allergic reactions can cause acute kidney injury. Sepsis, multiple myeloma, vasculitis, and scleroderma can also lead to acute kidney injury. A blockage of your urinary tract caused by an enlarged prostate, kidney stones, and certain types of cancer can also cause acute kidney injury.

If you suspect that you have acute kidney injury, you should notify your doctor right away.