Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs)

Learn about glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs) and how these medicines work to slow down the damage to your kidneys and progression to end-stage kidney disease.
Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
February 12, 2024

What are glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs)?

Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, or GLP-1 RAs, are a type of medicine to help manage blood sugar (glucose) levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Some GLP-1 RAs are also used to treat obesity.  

These medicines mostly come in a shot or injection form, which you take once a week or once a day, depending on the type you are prescribed or in a tablet form. They are not insulin, but they help your body use its own insulin better to lower blood sugar levels. 

How do GLP-1 RAs slow down the damage to my kidneys? 

GLP-1 RAs slow down the damage to your kidneys. They: 

  • Lower your blood sugar so your kidneys do not need to work as hard. 
  • Lower your blood pressure and level of bad cholesterol or LDL. This can help protect you from heart disease, which can lead to kidney problems.

How do GLP-1 RAs work? 

GLP-1 RAs : 

  • Act like the natural hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). Hormones are chemicals your body makes to do certain things like grow. GLP-1 hormones are made when you eat and they help control blood sugar. 
  • Raise insulin levels when your blood sugar gets high. GLP-1 RAs tell your pancreas to make more insulin, which lets sugar go from your blood into your cells for energy. 
  • Block glucagon, which is a hormone your body uses to raise your blood sugar levels when necessary. 
  • Slow down digestion, which is how fast your stomach empties after you eat. This means sugar goes into your blood slower, which helps keep blood sugar levels steady. 
  • Make you feel full longer, which can help you eat less and lose weight. 

What are some common side effects of GLP-1 RAs?

Common side effects from GLP-1 RAs include: 

  • Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea) 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Throwing up 
  • Constipation (trouble passing stool [poop]) 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Not feeling as hungry as usual 


These side effects happen because the medicine affects how your stomach works and how your body processes sugar and food. Most of the time, these side effects go away after your body gets used to the medicine. If they do not go away or they are really bothering you, talk to your doctor.

It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about medication and medication management questions you have.