Saxenda for weight loss [reviewed]

Saxenda for weight loss: Does it work?

Saxenda (Liraglutide) is one of two drugs licensed in the UK for weight loss. Saxenda is the brand name of the drug Liraglutide, also known under the branded name of Victoza, which has been used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes in the UK since 2009. Today, I review the use of Saxenda for weight. 


Saxenda for weight loss: what is the licensed use in the UK?

Saxenda (Liraglutide) was introduced to the UK in 2017. It is licensed as part of a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity in obese patients with:

  • BMI of more than 30 (obese) or 
  • BMI of less than 30 but more than 27 (overweight) who have weight-related conditions such as prediabetes, diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia (for example, high cholesterol level).

Additionally, if a satisfactory loss of body weight is not achieved (reduction by 5% of initial body weight) in 12 weeks, treatment will be discontinued.

How does Saxenda help to lose weight? 

Without going deep into the science, Saxenda’s mechanism of action is described as hormonal. Saxenda mimics the actions of the GLP-1 hormone (found in our body) to decrease appetite and increased satiety (, ND), which contributes to a decrease in calorie intake and consequent weight loss.

Saxenda for weight loss: what is the dose?

Patients who use Saxenda star on a dose of 0.6mg once daily. It is recommended to increase the dose in intervals of at least one week to a maximum dose of 3mg daily. The dose should be increased by 0.6mg at least seven-day intervals. 

Saxenda- doses schedule

Saxenda comes in the form of a prefilled, multi-dose pen. Saxenda is injected daily into one of the following areas: 

  • stomach area 
  • upper leg (thigh), or 
  • upper arm 

The video below demonstrated how the Saxenda pen is used. 

Saxenda vs. Victoza: what is the difference?

Both drugs come in the same size prefilled pens, which contain the same active ingredient, liraglutide, at the concentration of 6mg in 1 ml. In terms of the device itself, Saxenda and Victoza are almost the same, except for a couple of ‘inactive’ ingredients used in the formulation of Saxenda. The following are the main differences between both products:

Saxenda Victoza
Licensed indication Weight management (weight loss) in conjunction with hypocyloric diet and exercise in obese patients (BMI over 30) or patients with BMI over 27 with other health conditions. Management of type 2 diabetes in conjunction with diet and exercise. Victoza can be used on its own where metformin contra-indicated or intolerant or as combination therapy with other antidiabetic drugs.
Age For adults only Adults and children over 10 years of age
Dose Starting dose of 0.6mg, increased to maximum of 3mg daily. Starting dose of 0.6mg, increased to maximum of 1.8mg. Higher doses are not recommended.
Side effects Similar for both products. Refer to product information leaflet for more details.
Cost for private patients Around £75 per pen. Around £50 per pen.
Can you get it on NHS? Yes, however unlikely Yes.


Saxenda & weight loss: how effective is it?

The main evidence behind the effectiveness of Saxenda comes from 4 clinical trials. Patients who used Saxenda were obese or overweight and had co-morbidity such as hypertension. During the trials, there was a significant difference in weight loss between patients who used Saxenda and patients who used a placebo product (a product which did not contain the active drug). All patients who participated in clinical trials received lifestyle interventions for weight loss, such as a reduced-calorie diet and increased exercise. 

Across all studies (duration between 32-160 weeks), the estimated weight loss was between 5.4% and 4% of body weight (NICE, 2017). However, many patients regained weight after stopping the treatment.

Overall, more patients who received Saxenda treatment left clinical trials due to side effects experienced (9.2-13%) versus 3.3%-6% who received placebo treatment (ibid).

Weight-loss outcomes: summary study 1 (Pi-Sunyer et al., 2015)

  • 56-week study in obese patients (BMI over 30) or patients with BMI 0ver 27 with other conditions such as high cholesterol or blood pressure levels
  • 3731 patients
  • Placebo-controlled: some patients used products with no active drug
  • Dose of Saxenda used: 3mg once daily in combination with advice (counselling) on lifestyle changes.  


  • 63.2% of patients who used Saxenda lost 5% or more of body weight as compared to 27.1% of the placebo patient group
  • 33.1% of patients on Saxenda lost 10% or more of their body weight as compared to 10.6% on placebo treatment 
  • Most commonly reported side effects were nausea and diarrhoea
  • Serious side effects were experienced by 6.2% of patients who used Saxenda versus 5% of patients on a placebo      

Study 2 (Le Roux et al., 2017):

  • three-year study in obese patients with prediabetes
  • 2254 participants who received treatment with Saxenda (3mg once daily) or placebo in conjunction with a reduced-calorie diet and increased exercise
  • 2% of patients treated with Saxenda developed diabetes as compared to 6% who used placebo treatment
  • Overall, Saxenda may reduce the risk of diabetes development in obese or prediabetic patients 

Saxenda possible side effects and warnings

Like with all drugs, the use of Saxenda for weight loss comes with a risk of side effects. Very common side effects, experienced by 10% or more patients include: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation 

Additionally, there are many common side effects, including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Hypoglycaemia (low sugar level)
  • Dyspepsia and Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • Fatigue 

Please note this is not an exhaustive list. For a list of all side effects and warnings, read the product information leaflet, which can be found online

Saxenda cancer risk

One of the first warnings that pop up when visiting is important safety information about the risks of thyroid C-cell tumours (, ND):

  • Liraglutide cause dose-dependent and treatment duration-dependent thyroid C-cell tumours in both rats and mice
  • It is not known if Saxenda has the same effect on humans
  • Patients should be informed about the risk and possible symptoms of thyroid tumours 

Other warnings:

  • Acute pancreatitis including fatal and non-fatal hemorrhagic or necrotizing pancreatitis (death of pancreas due to lack of blood supply)
  • Acute gallbladder disease
  • Risk of hypoglycaemia when used with other ant-diabetic drugs
  • Heart rate increase
  • Renal impairment
  • Hypersensitivity reactions
  • Suicidal behaviours:

During a clinical trial in humans, 9 of 3384 patients (0.3%) treated with Saxenda reported suicidal thoughts (0.1% for placebo) with one attempted suicide.

For more information, visit the above warning on visit SaxendaPro website.

How much does Saxenda cost?

Saxenda cost per pen

Saxenda price varies between pharmacies. Saxenda can be purchased online at prices of around £75 per pen. This price usually includes a consultation fee (online assessment) and the cost of the drug.

Saxenda monthly cost

Each Saxenda pen contains 18mg of the active drug Liraglutide in 3 ml of solution.

If the maximum daily dose is used (3mg), for example, one pen would last six days; therefore, the patient would require five pens each month to deliver a maximum daily dose of 3mg. Based on this monthly cost of Saxenda would equal to £375.

Where to buy Saxenda for weight loss?

Saxenda can be purchased online from registered pharmacies. When Saxenda is purchased online, normally, patients need to answer a number of questions about their health to access the suitability of the product. Patients who have Saxenda prescribed privately can use any conventional pharmacy to process a Saxenda prescription. The prices in high street pharmacies may vary; therefore, it is recommended to call/visit a few pharmacies to get the best deal.

Saxenda weight loss on NHS?

Saxenda can be prescribed in the UK. Saxenda is not commonly prescribed in the UK, although some increase in NHS prescription is observed. 

As of today, Saxenda use in NHS is very limited and not included in NICE recommendations on identifying, assessing, and managing obesity. The only current treatment option recommended by this guide is Orlistat.

European Medicine Agency (EMA), which publishes reports for each medication that receives marketing authorisation noted that it is ‘unlikely that any potential weight loss achieved with liraglutide’ will continue after the treatment is stopped.

Saxenda for weight loss: conclusion

Through its novel mechanism of action, Saxenda offers an interesting approach to weight loss; however, there is a wide range of possible common very common side effects. NHS and private treatment carry a high price tag for NHS and private patients, making it almost not affordable. Obese patients may consider other options such as treatment with Orlistat, which is taken orally. 



Le Roux Carel W., Arne Astrup,Ken Fujioka, Frank Greenway, David C W Lau, Luc Van Gaal, Rafael Violante Ortiz, John P H Wilding, Trine V Skjøth, Linda Shapiro Manning, Xavier Pi-Sunyer, Andreas Hamann, Alain Barakat, Matthias Blüher, Thomas Linn, Andrea Mölle et al. (2017). 3 years of Liraglutide versus placebo for type 2 diabetes risk reduction and weight management in individuals with prediabetes: a randomised, double-blind trial. Available at: Accessed on 06/01/2023

NICE (2017). Obese, overweight with risk factors: Liraglutide (Saxenda). Available at: Accessed on 16/03/2019

MIMS (2017). Saxenda. Available at: Accessed on 06/01/2023

Pi-Sunyer, Xavier and Astrup, Arne and Fujioka, Ken and Greenway, Frank and Halpern, Alfredo and Krempf, Michel and Lau, David C.W. and le Roux, Carel W. and Violante Ortiz, Rafael and Jensen, Christine Bjørn and Wilding, John P.H. (2015). A Randomized, Controlled Trial of 3.0 mg of Liraglutide in Weight Management. Available at: Accessed on 06/01/2023 (ND). Mechanism of action. Available at: Accessed on 06/01/2023

I am a qualified pharmacist working in an independent pharmacy in the UK.
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