Among individuals with obesity, weight loss medications reduced the risk of developing cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), according to study results presented at the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) 2021 Annual Meeting, held from October 22 to 27, 2021, in Las Vegas, Nevada and virtually.

Obesity is strongly associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and studies exploring the association between weight loss medications and the progression of end-stage liver diseases are limited. The current study aimed to determine the potential correlation between weight loss medications and the development of cirrhosis and HCC among individuals with obesity.

Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis using data from the IBM Explorys database 5 (1999-2021). Individuals with obesity (body mass index [BMI] >30 kg/m2) taking weight loss medications such as orlistat, phentermine/topiramate, lorcaserin, bupropion/naltrexone, or liraglutide were included in the analysis. Researchers identified the number of patients who had developed cirrhosis or HCC after at least 3 months of using weight loss medications. They also assessed for complications of cirrhosis, including the development of ascites, esophageal varices, and hepatic encephalopathy.

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Study results showed an overall reduced risk of developing HCC among individuals taking weight loss medications for obesity (odds ratio [OR], 0.07; 95% CI, 0.06-0.08). Compared with other weight loss medications, orlistat and liraglutide showed a statistically significant decreased risk of developing HCC (OR, 0.13; 95% CI, 0.08-0.20 and OR, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.29-0.41, respectively).

Weight loss medications were also shown to reduce the risk of developing cirrhosis and associated complications. Particularly, phentermine/topiramate (OR, 0.41; 95% CI, 0.34-0.49), lorcaserin (OR, 0.44; 95% CI, 0.37-0.52), and bupropion/naltrexone (OR, 0.33; 95% CI, 0.28-0.39) were shown to reduce the risk of developing cirrhosis significantly. The risk for esophageal varices was found to be low among individuals taking orlistat, liraglutide, or bupropion/naltrexone. Orlistat, liraglutide, and phentermine/topiramate were also shown to reduce the risk of developing hepatic encephalopathy.

Researchers concluded, “Our results suggest that weight loss medications reduce the risk of HCC, cirrhosis, and cirrhosis complications. Clinicians should consider weight loss medications for patients who are unable to lose weight through lifestyle modifications.”


Trujillo S, Kamionkowski S, Walsh E, Davila J, Asaad I. Do weight loss medications reduce the risk of cirrhosis and HCC? Presented at: ACG 2021 Annual Meeting; October 22-27, 2021; Las Vegas, NV and virtual. Abstract P1811.

This article originally appeared on Gastroenterology Advisor