A mental health professional and a single mom, Kimberly Carew knows how to ask for help. So when she told her endocrinologist that she was experiencing some pretty painful side effects after starting an Ozempic prescription, she was surprised when none of her doctors had any idea what was causing her pain. Even worse, they encouraged her to continue the drug. 

“It was horrific,” Carew tells Rolling Stone. “It was a horrible experience that no one, none of my doctors seemed to understand or really believe. It was a shock [for them.] ‘Like, no, this is supposed to be a miracle drug. What are you talking about?’”

During her time on Ozempic — an injectable drug initially approved to treat diabetes, which is now being widely used by people who want to lose weight — Carew was unable to keep food or water down. She had uncontrollable muscle spasms, and pre-existing joint and back pain flared because of frequent vomiting. She went to the emergency room for dehydration, developed pneumonia, and was showing extensive signs of malnutrition when her doctors finally ran some tests. Her stomach wasn’t just hurting. It was paralyzed. 

Carew was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a condition where your stomach muscles (which usually aid with digestion) slow to imperceptible levels. This keeps food that should be leaving your body on a normal rhythm stuck inside your gut, and can cause long-lasting and violent bouts of nausea, bloating, vomiting, pain, even malnutrition. In a statement to Rolling Stone, Novo Nordisk, the parent company of Ozempic, said delayed gastric emptying is a noted side effect on the labeling, but most patients only experience minor slowed stomachs. “GLP-1 has been used to treat type 2 diabetes (T2D) for more than 15 years, and for treatment of obesity for eight years,” Novo Nordisk said in a statement. “Semaglutide has been extensively examined in robust clinical development programs, large real world evidence studies and has cumulatively over 9.5 million patient years of exposure.”

While it may be rare, gastroparesis isn’t curable — it can only be managed. So when Carew realized that her journey had just begun, Carew started a small series on TikTok documenting her process of recovering, with the goal of raising awareness and finding community around the extremely rare side effect. But when she posted her first video on the topic, she went from trying to convince her doctors to trying to convince an entire app. The video was viewed over 600,000 times, and a wave of pro-Ozempic users accused her of being dramatic, lying about her diagnosis, spreading misinformation, and trying to give the medicine a bad name. She wanted to warn them — they wanted her to shut up. 

“All I was trying to get across was that it may work great for some people, but there are significant impacts that can debilitate you. And there’s no [current] evidence or research that can show who those people are going to be,” Carew tells Rolling Stone. I nearly took the video down because I was so overwhelmed with negative comments. It appeared to be a collective blame of my human body for the response to this drug.”

What Carew experienced was just a small portion of what happens when the online Ozempic community — and its expressed goal of positivity — goes to the extreme. Much of Ozempic’s rapid growth in the zeitgeist also came from word of mouth posts on social media apps like TikTok, with users documenting the good, the bad, and the extremely ugly side effects of their Ozempic journeys, but all with the encouragement that the brighter side of the battle would be weight loss. Now, almost two years later, Ozempic and GLP-1 influencers are a thriving and populated section of TikTok, where the biggest accounts encourage users not to be afraid of trying the drug, and push back against what they call scare tactics from both other users in the media (like Ozempic face — a change in appearance after using it — or the perception that weight-loss users were “stealing” drugs from actual diabetics). Carew’s experience — not just minor nausea or pain, but a side effect with long lasting effects — didn’t fit the narrative. 

Even though Carew was sharing her own personal experience, for the past five months she’s been accused by hundreds of users for fear mongering, blamed for taking Ozempic as a diabetic (which is who the drug was approved for), and told she should have known better. No major Ozempic influencers have criticized Carew or her content. But even with commenters still calling her a liar, the past two weeks have proven Carew isn’t entirely alone. On Tuesday, a CNN report found that an incremental number of Ozempic users have been diagnosed with gastroparesis after taking the drug — enough that the American Society of Anesthesiologists encouraged patients taking Ozempic, Wegovy, and other weight loss medications to stop at least a week before they have elective surgery because of the risk they could regurgitate food while under anesthesia. 

“Now it seems to be like coming to light and people are coming back that saw my video and are like, ‘Hey, did you see this in the news?’” Carew says. “I’m like, yeah, that’s what I said almost a year ago. I tried to say something about it, and no one listened.”


Kimberly Carew

Carew is feeling vindicated. More and more people believe her now. But she tells Rolling Stone she’s determined to keep posting about her experience — and long road to recovery — because of the surplus of anecdotal misinformation on TikTok, and the knowledge that she was the best case scenario. While gastroparesis is hard on the body, providers like the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins also note that one of the biggest tolls the disease can take on patients is on their mental health. Carew has a Master of Science in psychology and counseling, is starting a doctoral program in counseling, and has two therapists — and she believes that it took all those things in conjunction to keep her from being overwhelmed by her diagnosis. So she’s determined to keep going to let people know when and how to ask for help. 

“There were so many people saying that’s the way the drug works,’” Carew tells Rolling Stone. “I was like, ‘Whatever, this needs to be out there.’ People are gonna be using this. They’re gonna be looking and they need to see that there are side effects for this. And maybe if there’s somebody out there that has experienced it and shares, maybe people won’t be so afraid to ask their doctor and question what they’re feeling. I push, that’s what I do. I won’t let anyone get to me.”