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Common Orlistat side effects and how to treat them

Explore Orlistat's potential side effects and learn to handle them with our supportive guide.

Orlistat Side Effects: Understanding and Managing Them | Juniper

If you're on a weight loss journey, you know how challenging it can be to lose weight through diet and exercise alone. That's why weight loss medication has been gaining a lot of attention recently.

Orlistat has quickly become one of the most popular options on the market, but there are a few things you should know before starting this medication.

That's why we've created a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about the possible side effects of Orlistat, as well as some helpful tips for what to do if you're experiencing any of these symptoms.

What is Orlistat?

Orlistat is a prescription weight loss medication that aids weight loss and comes in the form of a pill. Orlistat is normally taken in 120mg oral doses, usually 3 times daily or alongside a meal. However, Orlistat only needs to be taken when accompanied by foods with fat in them — if there's no fat in the food, then Orlistat isn't taken.

It works by blocking enzymes in the gut that digest fat. That means it works to prevent some of the fat in the foods you're eating from being absorbed into the intestines. Instead, the fat is removed from the body through bowel movements.

Is Orlistat effective for weight loss?

For those on a weight loss journey, Orlistat is an effective way to support weight loss. However, it needs to be used in combination with a low-calorie and low-fat diet. It's also best used along with an exercise regime to ensure you're improving your overall health and lifestyle while working towards weight loss.

The efficacy of Orlistat will depend on how high your dose is [1]. Studies have shown that taking 120mg of Orlistat 3 times a day can reduce fat absorption by up to 30%, which equates to a caloric reduction of about 200 calories per day [2].

How quickly can you lose weight on Orlistat?

Because everybody is different, it's hard to give a definitive answer on how much weight loss you can expect when taking Orlistat.

We know that taking Orlistat can equate to a reduction in calorie absorption, but how much fat is lost in any given time frame will really depend on how much of a low-calorie diet is being consumed, as well as what exercise regime you're following.

Generally speaking, if Orlistat is the right treatment for you, you should see a loss of 5% of your starting body weight within 12 weeks of starting treatment [3], with noticeable weight loss beginning at around the 2-week mark [4].

But again, these figures should be used only as guidelines. For some, it might take longer to see noticeable weight loss while for others the changes might be more sudden or dramatic.

What are the side effects of Orlistat?

Orlistat is a powerful medication that can fast-track weight loss and help you to reach your weight goals sooner. But there have been some noted side effects of Orlistat that you should consider before speaking to your doctor about this medication.

It's worth noting that most of these Orlistat side effects are considered mild to moderate [5].

Side effects of Orlistat might include:

  • Oily or fatty stools
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Faecal spotting
  • Dark urine
  • Rectal pain [6]

These common side effects can often be alleviated by reducing the amount of fat in the diet, as excess fat is being pushed out by the body in the form of stools and flatulence.

Other Orlistat side effects include severe stomach pain, muscle aches, leaky bowel movements, inability to hold bowel movements, and increased bowel movements.

There are some more serious side effects to Orlistat that you should be aware of before beginning this medication, but it's important to know that these aren't very common.

Orlistat can be linked to an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. So if you experience any tightness in the chest, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, skin blisters, swelling or a rash, it's important to talk to your doctor immediately [7].

Can Orlistat cause pale stools?

There haven't been any comprehensive studies that show that taking Orlistat can cause pale stools. But some sources do list pale stools as a potential side effect, so it's still a little unclear if it is a common side effect.

Having frequent pale stools can be an indication of underlying medical conditions that may require urgent medical care, as it could indicate gallbladder or liver disease [8]. If left untreated, this could lead to further complications.

However, it's also helpful to note that changes in stool colour every now and again are completely normal and not a sign of any medical condition. If you notice a colour change or are not sure if your stool is a healthy colour, then it's best to seek advice from a trusted healthcare professional as soon as you can.

If you're taking an oral contraceptive, diarrhoea caused by Orlistat might make this birth control less effective, so consider finding alternative contraceptive methods when experiencing this side effect [9].

What should I do if I experience side effects of Orlistat?

The side effects of Orlistat are generally quite mild and can pass on their own. But it's always best to check in with your doctor if you experience any type of side effect from a new drug.

If your side effects are mild, try reducing the amount of fat in your diet. That's because eating high-fat foods can trigger many of the side effects caused by Orlistat.

If you reduce the amount of fat in your diet but don't feel your side effects easing, Orlistat might not be suitable for you, so it's best to speak to a trusted healthcare professional.

Generally speaking, you'll know if Orlistat is the right medication for you within the first 3 months as that's when most of the side effects will crop up. So remember to keep checking in with your doctor, particularly when you're beginning your Orlistat journey.

It's also important to keep your doctor in the loop about any other medication you're using before starting Orlistat, as drug interactions may occur, and this may be the cause of any side effects you're experiencing.

Can I take Orlistat if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?

Because there hasn't been a lot of research into how taking Orlistat can affect pregnancy, it's best to avoid this medication if you are or are trying to fall pregnant [10].

It's thought that taking Orlistat might be safe for those breastfeeding but there are a few concerns to be aware of.

The reason there isn't a definitive answer to the question of taking Orlistat while breastfeeding is because the medication limits the absorption of fat and nutrients, which causes concerns about women not being able to produce milk that is rich in all the essential nutrients needed to support new life.

This means that taking Orlistat alongside a multivitamin supplement could be helpful for those breastfeeding and wanting to take Orlistat [11]. Still, it's always best to consult a healthcare professional for the right answer for you, your body, and your child.

If you're on a weight loss journey, you know how challenging it can be to effectively lose weight and keep it off with just a nutritious diet that keeps you in a caloric deficiency as well as the exercise regime that's right for you alone.

The good news? Weight loss medication can give you the extra helping hand you need to shed those extra pounds for good. With a holistic approach to weight loss, like Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme, we can help you reach your weight goals in a sustainable way.

With Juniper, you'll receive access to a team of healthcare professionals, nutritionists, and a community of like-minded women. When paired with clinically proven effective weight loss medication and lifestyle changes, you'll be in the best position to reach your goal weight, sooner.