Liraglutide

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Last reviewed: 03 Jul 2024

Liraglutide is an injectable medication used for weight loss, usually found under the brand name Saxenda. It’s an appetite suppressant that mimics a hormone in your body which is released after eating, letting your brain know you’re full. This can make it easier to follow a diet and exercise plan and reduce hunger between meals. Liraglutide for weight loss is a prescription-only medication and is set to be released in the UK as a generic treatment called ‘liraglutide injections’.

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What is liraglutide?

Liraglutide is an injectable medication used for the management of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes and more recently, a weight loss drug. Liraglutide for weight loss can reduce your appetite and is always prescribed alongside a diet and exercise programme. You can find liraglutide under 2 brand names in the UK:

  • Victoza – a type 2 diabetes treatment
  • Saxenda – a weight loss treatment, which is long-term out of stock

Although there isn’t a set release date yet, liraglutide will also be available in the UK under the generic drug name: liraglutide. When it becomes available, you’ll be able to request liraglutide treatment for weight loss from Asda Online Doctor.

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How does liraglutide work for weight loss?

Liraglutide works in the same way your natural hormones do to send signals to your brain that you’re full which lowers your appetite, making it easier to stick to a healthy diet and supporting weight loss.

Liraglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist. GLP-1 is a natural hormone your body produces. After you’ve eaten, your body releases GLP-1 and this sends signals to your brain letting it know that you’re full. When you inject liraglutide, it mimics GLP-1 and sends these same signals to lower your appetite and improve satiety (feeling full).

Liraglutide also delays how quickly your stomach empties, which makes you feel full after a meal for longer. These effects make it easier to lose more weight while following a diet and exercise programme, as you won’t feel as hungry while reducing your calorie intake.

Is liraglutide an appetite suppressant?

Yes, liraglutide is an appetite suppressant as it mimics the GLP-1 hunger hormone to reduce appetite, helping you to feel fuller between meals.

How does liraglutide work for diabetes?

Liraglutide helps to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels in people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who struggle to do this through diet and exercise alone. It works by helping your pancreas to release the correct amount of insulin if your blood sugar is high. Insulin is a hormone that manages blood sugar by moving sugar from your blood into the tissues, where it can be converted into energy.

How to take liraglutide

Liraglutide is an injectable medication that comes in the form of a pre-filled injectable pen. There are no liraglutide tablets available in the UK for weight loss. Liraglutide should be injected every day, at the same time of day. Doing this improves its effectiveness, as it keeps the medication levels steady in your body. It may also help to reduce side effects.

You can take liraglutide with or without food and drink as it’s being injected rather than ingested (taken orally). Your doctor may advise eating a light meal before injecting if you get side effects like nausea, as this may help reduce these symptoms.

When injecting liraglutide, make sure to:

  • always inject under the skin, avoiding any veins or muscles
  • inject in the front of the abdomen or thigh – you can also use your upper arm with some help from a friend or family member
  • inject into a different part of your skin each time, even if this is in the same area, such as the other side of your stomach – this can reduce the chance of irritation and soreness at the injection site
  • use a new needle for each injection, making sure it’s not damaged or unsealed
  • follow any instructions in the patient information leaflet and from your doctor

What is the best time of day to take liraglutide for weight loss?

The best time of day to take liraglutide for weight loss is whatever time works best for you and your schedule. Once you’ve found a time of day that works, you just need to stick to this time every day. You can set a reminder or alarm on your phone to help you remember.

How long does it take for liraglutide to work?

It usually takes a couple of weeks for liraglutide to work, but you may notice its effects on appetite suppression after a few doses. Liraglutide is most effective once you reach the maintenance dose of 3mg, but you may lose weight before this.

Liraglutide dosage schedule

The liraglutide injection follows a specific dosage schedule, which is in place to give your body time to adjust to the new medication and reduce side effects. When you start taking liraglutide you’ll follow the dosage schedule for 5 weeks, until you reach the maintenance dose, which is 3mg. If you stop taking liraglutide, you’ll need to start the dosage schedule again.

A liraglutide pen lasts around 2 weeks when you first start taking it and for 6 days once you reach the maintenance dose. Our guide on ‘how long does a Saxenda pen last’ explains this in more detail (Saxenda is a branded weight loss medication containing liraglutide as the active ingredient).

Liraglutide dosing schedule:

Week Liraglutide dose

1

0.6mg

2

1.2mg

3

1.8mg

4

2.4mg

5 onwards

3mg (full maintenance dose)

You’ll follow the liraglutide dosing schedule unless you get side effects that are bothering you a lot, in which case your doctor may recommend staying on a lower dose until your side effects get better. You may also choose to stay on a lower dose of liraglutide for the rest of your treatment but discuss this with your doctor first.

Liraglutide effectiveness

According to clinical studies, Saxenda (the branded version of liraglutide for weight loss) was found to help participants lose an average of 8% of their starting body weight compared to 2.6% in the placebo participants. This trial was carried out over 56 weeks on patients taking the maintenance dose of 3mg of liraglutide per day, alongside a diet and exercise regime.

To improve liraglutide effectiveness:

  • take it at the same time each day
  • try not to miss any doses
  • stick to the diet and exercise plan set out by your doctor

There are certain foods to avoid while taking Saxenda (liraglutide) to make it more effective and to reduce side effects, like nausea.

“Each person's experience with liraglutide and other weight loss injections is different. Clinical trials show an average weight loss, but you could lose more or less weight than this. Our doctors will monitor your progress and if you haven’t lost 5% or more of your body weight within 12 weeks of taking the maximum dose, we may recommend trying another treatment.” – Dr Babak Ashrafi, Clinical Lead for Service Expansion.

Liraglutide side effects

Like all medications, liraglutide can cause some side effects although most are mild to moderate and decrease over time. You’ll follow the dosage schedule to give your body time to get used to the medication at a lower dose before increasing it. Speak to your doctor if your side effects are severe or don’t go away.

Serious liraglutide injection side effects include:

  • rare: a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) – symptoms include swelling in the face and throat, dizziness, and difficulty breathing
  • uncommon: pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) – symptoms include persistent and severe stomach pain, nausea (feeling sick), and vomiting (being sick)

These are medical emergencies so you need to call 999 or get to a hospital straight away.

Very common liraglutide injection side effects include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • headache
  • constipation

Common liraglutide injection side effects include:

  • an increase in pancreatic enzymes which would show in a blood test
  • problems affecting the stomach and intestines, such as indigestion, inflammation of the stomach (gastritis), pain, discomfort, heartburn, wind, bloating, belching, and dry mouth
  • changed sense of taste
  • feeling tired or weak
  • difficulty sleeping – this tends to happen in the first 3 months of taking liraglutide
  • dizziness
  • gallstones
  • rash
  • an injection site reaction, such as pain, bruising, rash, irritation, or itching – you can reduce the chances of this side effect by changing your liraglutide injection site every day
  • low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) – symptoms may happen suddenly and include pale skin, cold sweats, feeling very hungry, nausea, anxiety, confusion, feeling sleepy or weak, shaking and fast heartbeat. Speak to your doctor straight away if you get these symptoms.

These side effects usually go away after a few days or weeks of taking liraglutide but may come back with a dose increase. Once you’re on the maintenance dose they should go away, but let your doctor know if they don’t.

Uncommon liraglutide injection side effects include:

  • fast heartbeat
  • loss of fluids (dehydration) – this is more likely at the start of treatment and can be caused by severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Speak to a doctor or call 111 straight away if you think you’re dehydrated.
  • a delay in the emptying of your stomach
  • an inflamed gallbladder
  • feeling generally unwell
  • allergic reactions, such as a skin rash

Talk to your doctor if you get any of these side effects, especially if they’re severe.

Rare liraglutide injection side effects include:

  • reduced kidney function
  • acute kidney failure – symptoms include reduced urine volume, confusion, nausea or vomiting, dehydration, bruising easily, and a metallic taste in your mouth

These side effects are rare but serious and require immediate medical attention. Speak to a doctor or go to A&E straight away if you notice these symptoms.

How to get liraglutide in the UK

Liraglutide is a prescription weight loss medication, so you’ll either need to get it with a private prescription or through the NHS. We still don’t have a date for when generic liraglutide injections will be available to prescribe, but we’ll update this page when we find out more. Branded Saxenda is a weight loss injection that contains liraglutide but it is long-term out of stock in the UK.

How can I get a prescription for liraglutide?

You will be able to get a prescription for liraglutide through a private doctor service, such as Asda Online Doctor, once it’s available. Our doctors can prescribe weight loss injections like liraglutide and all you need to do is:

  • Complete a short, medical questionnaire about your health and weight, which may involve sending a few photos. Any images sent to us are only used to make sure the treatment is suitable and safe, as you must fit the eligibility criteria for body mass index (BMI) to be prescribed liraglutide.
  • Once a doctor has reviewed your questionnaire, they’ll issue an electronic prescription. If not suitable, they may offer alternative weight loss treatments instead.
  • Your liraglutide injections can be delivered to your home, with a range of delivery options to suit your needs. All our medication is sent in discreet packaging.
  • Follow-up advice and support are available in your free and private patient account. You can message a doctor at any time with any question, or order a repeat prescription.

Can you get liraglutide on the NHS?

Not. Since Saxenda is long-term out of stock and generic liraglutide is not yet available you can’t get liraglutide on the NHS.

The NHS does offer other weight loss injections like Wegovy and Mounjaro, but they aren’t always available in your area. Your GP may be able to prescribe generic liraglutide (some GPs are being trained to do so, but only in certain areas) when it becomes available, although there’s no set date for this.

If your GP can’t prescribe liraglutide, they may refer you to a weight management specialist service instead, but waiting times can vary from a few months to a few years. You can find out more about NHS weight loss injections and their criteria in our guide.

Can you get liraglutide over the counter?

Liraglutide isn’t available over-the-counter, as it’s a prescription-only treatment that’s only safe to take if a doctor has checked your BMI and medical history. The only weight loss medication currently available without a prescription in the UK is alli, which contains 60 mg of orlistat and works to reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs with each meal by around a third.

Liraglutide alternatives

Until generic liraglutide becomes available in the UK, there are other weight loss injections you could try instead. Both Wegovy and Mounjaro work similarly to liraglutide as they contain a GLP-1 receptor agonist. You can get a prescription for Mounjaro and Wegovy through Asda Online Doctor.

Liraglutide brands

Liraglutide can be found under 2 brand names: Saxenda and Victoza:

Saxenda is liraglutide for weight loss and is made specifically as a weight loss treatment. Asda Online Doctor prescribes Saxenda, although it’s currently long-term out of stock due to manufacturer supply issues. It’s likely to be replaced in the UK with generic liraglutide when it’s available.

Victoza is a type 2 diabetes treatment, which also contains liraglutide. It can only be prescribed to you if you’ve got type 2 diabetes and need help regulating your blood sugar levels. It’s usually offered if other diabetes medicines are not working well enough. Victoza is prescribed with a different dosage from Saxenda to treat type 2 diabetes.

Victoza for weight loss can sometimes be prescribed privately, but this is known as an off-label prescription and isn’t advised in the UK. This is because prescribing type 2 diabetes medications for weight loss can cause shortages of medication for people who need it. You can’t get Victoza for weight loss through Asda Online Doctor.

Liraglutide vs semaglutide

Liraglutide and semaglutide are 2 very similar medications, mainly because they’re both GLP-1 receptor agonists. This means they both mimic GLP-1, sending signals to your brain that you’re full and delaying the emptying of your stomach. They’re also both injectable medications that come as pre-filled dose pens.

Wegovy (semaglutide) is available in the UK on a private prescription and in selected areas through your GP or an NHS weight loss management service. There isn’t a generic semaglutide injection available at the moment, but there’s likely to be one in the future.

The main differences between liraglutide and semaglutide (Wegovy) include:

  • When you take them: Liraglutide is taken daily while semaglutide is taken once per week.
  • Dosage: Liraglutide has a maximum maintenance dose of 3mg while semaglutide has a maximum maintenance dose of 2.4mg. This doesn’t mean that liraglutide is stronger than semaglutide though.
  • Side effects: Although similar medications, some side effects differ or may be more or less common due to the different active ingredients.
  • Brand names: While liraglutide for weight loss is usually found under the brand name Saxenda, semaglutide for weight loss is found under the brand name Wegovy. Semaglutide is also a type 2 diabetes medication found under the brand name Ozempic.

Liraglutide vs tirzepatide

Liraglutide and tirzepatide are similar medications, as they both contain a GLP-1 receptor agonist. One of the biggest differences between the two is that tirzepatide is a dual agonist, which means it mimics a second hormone. Tirzepatide is a GLP-1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) receptor agonist and GIP is thought to further enhance the effects of GLP-1 for appetite suppression.

Mounjaro (tirzepatide) is available in the UK on private prescription or through selected GPs or an NHS weight loss management service, but this depends on your area.

The main differences between liraglutide and tirzepatide (Mounjaro) are:

  • When you take them: Liraglutide is taken daily while tirzepatide is taken once per week.
  • Dosage: Liraglutide has a maximum maintenance dose of 3mg while tirzepatide has a maximum maintenance dose of 15mg, as well as lower maintenance doses of 5mg and 10mg.
  • Side effects: Although similar medications, side effects may differ, or be more or less common, as they’re different active ingredients and because tirzepatide mimics 2 hormones.
  • Brand names: Tirzepatide for weight loss is found under the name Mounjaro. It’s also used for type 2 diabetes under the same brand name but under a different dosage schedule.

We’ve also created a guide on the main differences between the different GLP-1 injections Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Ozempic so you can find out more about each one.

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Frequently asked questions

What does liraglutide do for weight loss?

Liraglutide can enhance weight loss results while following a diet and exercise plan. According to a clinical trial, people lost an average of 8% of their body weight after taking it for 56 weeks at the maintenance dose and following a diet and exercise plan. This is compared to a 2.6% weight loss in those not taking a liraglutide injection.

How much does liraglutide cost?

Liraglutide’s cost depends on many factors, such as whether you’re getting it branded (Saxenda), where you get it, and at which dosage. Some private services charge for consultations and prescriptions. When liraglutide becomes available at Asda Online Doctor, the cost will include everything you’ll need to take your injections, and we don’t charge for prescriptions or advice.

What are the disadvantages of liraglutide?

The disadvantages of liraglutide, as with any medication, include the chance of side effects. This is accounted for because liraglutide is a prescription-only medication, so a doctor will check that liraglutide is safe and suitable for you before you take it. You can also stay on a lower dose or speak to your doctor if you get side effects.

Can my GP prescribe liraglutide for weight loss?

In some areas, GPs are being trained to prescribe weight loss injections such as liraglutide, but this is yet to be a nationwide standard. You can ask your GP or they can refer you to a weight management service if you meet the criteria. Being referred to these services doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a weight loss injection.

Does liraglutide burn fat?

No, liraglutide doesn’t burn fat directly. Liraglutide is an appetite suppressant and works by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone. Reduced appetite alongside diet and exercise can lead to weight loss which does involve your body burning excess fat.

Can you drink alcohol with liraglutide?

Although liraglutide and alcohol don’t interact, it’s best to limit or avoid alcohol while taking liraglutide for weight loss. This is because drinking alcohol could increase your risk of or cause side effects, especially ones that affect your stomach. Drinking alcohol too often is also not recommended while following a diet and exercise plan, as drinks like wine, lager, and cider contain lots of calories and may hinder your weight loss results.

Does liraglutide need to be refrigerated?

Liraglutide needs to be refrigerated before first use. It should be stored between 2°C and 8°C and should not be frozen. Once you start using your liraglutide pen, it can either be stored back in the refrigerator at the same temperature or somewhere safe, away from direct sunlight, and below 30°C.

dr-babak-ashrafi-2.png
Medically reviewed by:
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion

Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.

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Last reviewed: 03 Jul 2024



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