Semaglutide-containing drugs such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus may have an association with an increased risk of a sight-threatening eye condition, a new study suggests.

The study published in JAMA Ophthalmology included 16,827 patients for analysis and gathered a sample size of 629 cases of nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION). 

Researchers reported that patients with Type 2 diabetes who took medications containing the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) class drug semaglutide had about a fourfold higher risk for developing NAION compared with patients not on a GLP-1 agonist. 

For overweight people who took semaglutide for weight loss, the risk was more than sevenfold higher. 

Dr. Joseph Rizzo, the director of neuro-ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston, told NBC News that NAION is, “in effect, a stroke of the optic nerve,” because it occurs when blood flow to the optic nerve stops. 

According to the JAMA Ophthalmology study, it’s the second most common form of optic neuropathy and a significant cause of blindness among adults. In the general population, NAION occurs in about two to 10 per 100,000 people.

The relatively high hazard ratios “reveal a substantially increased risk of NAION among individuals prescribed semaglutide relative to those prescribed other medications to treat T2D and obesity or overweight,” the study authors wrote.

However, researchers stressed that this study was observational, and more studies are needed to determine whether semaglutide causes NAION. 

Lawyers began investigating potential Ozempic vision loss and blindness lawsuits shortly after the study was released. Manufacturers of these drugs already face about 105 personal injury lawsuits for gastrointestinal issues.

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Over 1,700 Semaglutide Eye Disorder Reports Sent to FDA

As of March 31, 2024, the FDA Adverse Events Reporting System (FAERS) had received 1,776 reports of eye disorders. From the total reports, 71 were for blindness and 409 were for visual impairment. FAERS data is voluntary, and the FDA cannot verify the drug caused the condition.  

Semaglutide has known links to the progression of proliferative retinopathy, exacerbation of retinopathy, and new-onset macular edema. However, researchers say this is the first time semaglutide has been associated with NAION. 

Researchers don’t know the exact mechanism for how semaglutide could cause NAION, but the GLP-1 nervous system activity “might influence optic nerve head perfusion and potentially increase the risk of NAION.” 

So far, Ozempic is the most prescribed semaglutide-containing medication, followed by Wegovy, the JAMA study said. As prescriptions of semaglutide continue to grow in number, researchers said their data suggests cases of semaglutide-linked NAION will go up.

A Novo Nordisk spokesperson told NBC that this study doesn’t establish a causal link between semaglutide and NAION.

“Patient safety is a top priority for Novo Nordisk, and we take all reports about adverse events from the use of our medicines very seriously,” the spokesperson said.