If you’ve been on TikTok recently, you’ve likely seen the massive curiosity surrounding taking diabetes drugs for weight loss. What you may not have heard about are some of the darker stories and terrifying dangers associated with being on these types of drugs. Thirty-nine-year-old Susan Brown, for instance, took the diabetes drug Qsymia for weight loss and went blind. We spoke with Brown to hear her story and journey to recovery.
What is a drug like Qsymia taken for?
Qsymia is a combination of topiramate (an anticonvulsant) and phentermine (an appetite suppressant). This “combination drug,” as Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of “The Family Immunity Cookbook,” refers to it as, is an FDA-approved method to lose weight for individuals who qualify and work with an RD or licensed medical professional throughout the process. These individuals need to meet particular criteria, like having a minimum of one “weight-related comorbidity,” such as hypertension or type 2 diabetes, and are typically recommended to use these drugs for a max of two years.
“This medication is approved by the FDA as part of a physician-approved exercise, behavior change, and reduced calorie program. To qualify for this drug, FDA criteria include adults with an initial BMI of 30 or greater (defined as obese) or 27 or greater (defined as overweight),” Amidor explains. “The client is using the drug to help with weight loss which will help their overall health, but it must be taken in conjunction with following healthy lifestyle habits—especially diet and exercise—so they can learn to keep off the weight once they stop the medication.”
As for the list of side effects associated with taking drugs like Qsymia, Amador explains an increased heart rate, eye and vision issues, sleep and mood disorders, decreased kidney function, cognitive impairment, metabolic acidosis, and suicidal behavior, along with potential harm to your fetus if you’re pregnant, are some of the drug warnings. “If someone wants to take Qsymia who can become pregnant, a negative pregnancy test must be shown before they are prescribed it and monthly pregnancy tests are also taken,” Amador adds.
Now that we’ve established some background, let’s get into Brown’s story.
Susan Brown wanted to try Qsymia as a means to lose weight.
March 2022 was when Brown went for a checkup requesting to try Qsymia as a means to lose weight. “I had been frustrated by insatiable hunger when dieting, which made me feel like healthy eating was unsustainable. I was looking for assistance that could minimize the hunger pangs to reduce the temptation of junk and overeating,” Brown reveals. “I didn’t know a lot about Qsymia. I had read that it is a newer medication and people saw good results from it. It could help with appetite and metabolism. [I] read the fine print that there were potential side effects, but they sounded rare.”
Just 10 days after Brown started Qsymia, she lost her vision.
Just 10 days into taking this weight loss drug, Brown was in her car running errands and noticed something truly harrowing: Street signs and speed limit signs were too blurry for her to read. (For context, Brown’s normal vision is 20/10 when wearing glasses.) She was understandably scared and knew vision issues are potential, but “rare,” side effects of taking Qsymia—one that requires immediate attention and treatment to avoid permanent impairment.
“I immediately went to the hospital, where my vision continued to decline until I couldn’t read my phone screen a few inches from my face, even with my glasses on,” Brown says. “Within a couple of days of no longer taking the medication, my vision returned to normal. But not without over $15,000 in tests, a three-day hospital stay, a spinal tap, and follow-up visits.”
Even before vision issues, Brown experienced a few additional “minor” side effects. “I started having memory gaps. Sitting in a meeting with coworkers of over four years, I couldn’t remember their names. Also had felt jittery and shaky but chalked it up to my body adapting and something to ‘work through.'”
Brown ended up establishing an effective weight loss plan that worked for her.
Brown reveals she went into 2022 weighing 239 pounds. She dropped around 10 pounds in the short period of time she was taking Qsymia, and then maintained that weight until she tried another method that August: the Mayo Clinic Diet.
“I’m currently at 197lbs due to the Mayo Clinic Diet. I LOVE the recipes that the Mayo Clinic Diet provides—very filling, flavorful, and truly healthy,” Brown says.