Victoza is a brand name drug made by Novo Nordisk for the treatment of type 2 diabetes along with lifestyle changes in diet and exercise. On the market since 2010, Victoza is one of a handful of new medications designed to treat this tricky disease. Treating type 2 diabetes is important for avoiding lifelong and serious complications, and the race to find the perfect drug to do it is fierce.
While Victoza does help to lower blood sugar levels and treat type 2 diabetes, it may also cause serious side effects. People taking this medication have reported developing life-threatening pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, and thyroid cancer. Lawsuits against Novo Nordisk and other companies making similar drugs have been filed and you could become a part of them if you have experienced some of the terrible side effects while treating type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic illness characterized by high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar is sometimes normal, but when chronically high, can cause serious complications. Someone with diabetes over the long-term with poor blood sugar management may end up with vision loss, nerve damage, heart disease, or a stroke.
In a healthy person, a hormone produced in the pancreas called insulin is released when blood sugar levels get too high. Insulin helps to maintain lower, healthier blood sugar. In someone with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas may have slowed down insulin production or the body may not be as sensitive to insulin as it used to be. Lifestyle changes can reverse the course of disease, but medications can help too. Doctors may prescribe these when they feel their patients could benefit from a combination of lifestyle changes and blood sugar-lowering drugs.
Uses for Victoza
Victoza is the generic drug liraglutide. It is an injection that can be prescribed for adults with type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar levels. It is supposed to be used along with changes to diet and exercise, and weight loss, and when other types of medications have not worked well. It cannot be used to treat type 1 diabetes, a type of diabetes characterized by the complete inability to produce insulin. It is also contraindicated for the treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous complication of diabetes.
How it Works
Liraglutide belongs to a class of drugs called incretin mimetics. Incretins are insulin-related hormones and mimetics are mimics. Specifically, liraglutide mimics a hormone called GLP-1, which stands for glucagon-like peptide-1. GLP-1 plays several roles in the body, including in the liver, in the pancreas, and in the gut. It helps with gastric emptying, or moving food through the stomach, which is why Victoza can contribute to weight loss for diabetic patients.
To control blood sugar, GLP-1 is released as food moves through the small intestines. This triggers the pancreas to release insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar after a meal. It is the beta cells in the pancreas, those that make insulin, which are stimulated by GLP-1. In someone with type 2 diabetes, these cells have been damaged or are not functioning correctly. Victoza, as a GLP-1 mimetic, stimulates the beta cells and forces the pancreas to release more insulin.
Liraglutide is an injectable drug. Users must inject the medication into the thigh or upper arm. The injecting device, or pen, is preloaded with measured doses, to make it easy to use. Patients should be given a demonstration by their doctor to learn how to use an injection correctly. Dosing may vary by patient, but the injection is typically used once per day, at around the same time.
The most common side effects for Victoza are diarrhea, nausea, and headaches. Other possible side effects that should not be serious include constipation, heartburn, fatigue, difficulty urinating, painful urination, cold-like symptoms, and a rash or irritation at the site of the injection.
Some of the potential side effects of using Victoza can be serious, so anyone taking the drug should watch out for these and report them to a doctor for immediate medical attention: sudden side and back pain, depression, thoughts of self-harm, yellowing of the eyes of skin, clay-colored stools, dizziness, a pounding heart rate, rash and itchy skin, and swelling in the face, mouth, or throat.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that liraglutide packaging come with a black box warning. This type of warning is used for the most serious and potentially life-threatening side effects of a medication. For Victoza, that warning is for the possibility of developing thyroid cancer. This is a rare type of cancer in humans, but clinical trials with the drug found that it led to an increase in malignant thyroid tumors in lab rats.
The evidence that Victoza could cause the same problem in humans is not overwhelming, but because this cancer can be deadly, a warning is necessary. Signs of thyroid cancer include a sore throat, hoarseness, a lump in the throat area or on the neck, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Anyone taking Victoza is warned to look out for these signs so that any malignant tumor can be treated immediately.
Pancreatitis and Pancreatic Cancer
Although it is not included in the black box warning, the FDA has issued warnings about the risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer when taking incretin mimetics like Victoza. The label does include a precaution about pancreatitis. This is a swelling of the pancreas and it can be life-threatening. There have been reported cases of acute pancreatitis in patients taking incretin mimetics. This is fatal if not treated immediately, which is why patients taking Victoza are warned to watch for signs like a severe pain in the abdomen or back accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
In 2011 the FDA received trial results from Novo Nordisk that indicated patients receiving Victoza suffered more cases of pancreatitis than those taking other, comparable medications for type 2 diabetes. In a separate study, at least one patient taking Victoza who developed pancreatitis died from the illness.
In 2013 the FDA also got the results of studies that showed a connection between Victoza and pancreatic cancer. The results showed that people who had been taking the medication showed signs of developing pre-cancerous cells in the pancreas. The FDA, as well as a European agency, decided the evidence wasn’t strong enough to change package labeling, but investigations are ongoing.
Incretin mimetics made by other companies and which have been on the market longer than Victoza are already the subject of lawsuits because of the dangerous side effects. Suits against Novo Nordisk are expected to follow these with patients citing a lack of adequate warning as the cause of illness, cancer, and other conditions. If you have taken Victoza or another incretin mimetic and suffered the consequences, you may want to see a lawyer for advice on starting or joining a lawsuit.