There can be medical causes for unexplained weight gain. Here we list eight reasons, as well as some typical symptoms and treatments, to assist you better understand what’s going on.

2008-03-weight-gain-scaleIf you or a loved one has gained weight without explanation, see if any of these medical reasons apply. (For a diagnosis and treatment options, see your health-care provider.)

Select Signs and Symptoms


  • Weight gain
  • Facial, hand, ankle, feet, leg or overall swelling


  • Weakness, fatigue, paleness
  • Joint pain or stiffness; muscular cramps, discomfort, and wasting; unbalanced movement
  • Cold intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Brittle fingernails, dry skin and hair, hair loss
  • Decreased taste and smell
  • Slow speech, decreased cognitive capability
  • Depression, mood changes
  • Menstrual irregularities, infertility
  • Erectile dysfunction

1. Hypothyroidism

2008-03-weight-gain-hypothyroidismThyroid glands are small, cone-shaped organs that are located in the front of the neck, just above the larynx. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate metabolism and is at the rear of your neck. You may get fat if your gland fails to generate enough of these chemicals.

The most frequent cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an illness in which the immune system assaults the thyroid gland.

One or more blood tests are used to diagnose hypothyroidism. Treatment consists of thyroid hormone replacement and periodic hormone level monitoring. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause heart disease, increased infection risk, and miscarriage, as well as a potentially fatal coma.

Select Signs and Symptoms


  • Obesity centered around your midsection (apple shape)


  • Irregular, scanty or absent menstrual periods
  • Infertility
  • Increased hair growth or distribution of body hair in a male pattern
  • Thinning scalp hair
  • Decreased breast size
  • Aggravation of acne
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated insulin levels, insulin resistance or diabetes

2. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

2008-03-weight-gain-polycysticPCOS, also known as polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD), sclerocystic ovarian disease, Stein-Leventhal syndrome, or O syndrome, is a major cause of infertility in women. Dr. Virji thinks it might be caused by increased insulin levels. The development of a woman’s eggs stops for some reason; they become cysts in her ovaries.

PCOS usually appears soon after puberty, although it is frequently overlooked in primary care. “I’ve had a lot of these patients come into my weight-loss practice who were never diagnosed,” explains Dr. Virji. “Your health-care provider will need to rule out other factors before settling on PCOS, says Dr. Brantley. A diagnosis of exclusion is appropriate for this condition and should be made by a physician.”

Select Signs and Symptoms


  • Weight gain
  • Upper-body or central obesity with thin arms and legs
  • Rounded, red face
  • Increased fat between the shoulders or around the neck
  • In children: obesity and slowed growth rates


  • Fragile, thin skin that bruises easily and heals poorly
  • Abdominal, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts are all tinged purplish pink.
  • Acne or superficial skin infections
  • Skin blushing/flushing, red skin spots
  • Rib and spinal-column fractures are common among individuals who have weak bones.
  • Bone pain or tenderness, weak muscles
  • High blood pressure or sugar
  • Headaches
  • Thirst, increased urination
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability, anxiety or depression
  • In women, the following are possible symptoms: Excess hair on the face, neck, chest, abdomen, and thighs; absent or infrequent menstrual periods.
  • In men: Decreased fertility, diminished or absent desire for sex

Weight loss (which is more difficult since to the condition, so be patient with yourself) and medicine are used in treatment. If you don’t get help, potential side effects include sterility, obesity-related problems, and abnormal period complications, such as cancer.

PCOS can also raise your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which is marked by abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

3. Cushing’s Syndrome


Cortisol is a hormone produced by the brain that has several functions, including aiding in the breakdown of insulin, controlling protein metabolism, and enhancing stress response. It’s important to note that when you’re under a lot of emotional stress, whether it’s physical or mental bullying from your partner!

Cushing’s syndrome, also known as hypercortisolism, is caused by long-term use of corticosteroids or certain tumors. The treatment plan depends on the source and may include medications, surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or simply a reduction in your corticosteroids.

Untreated Cushing’s syndrome can lead to diabetes, serious infections, kidney stones, and even mortality.

4. Lack of Sleep

Select Signs and Symptoms


  • Weight gain
  • Increased hunger


  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Falling asleep in the early 5-minute range before going to bed (indicates severe sleep deprivation)
  • Falling asleep while doing sedentary activities, such as reading, listening to a lecture, watching television, or sitting in the car

2008-03-weight-gain-lackofsleepAccording to the National Sleep Foundation, only 63% of American adults obtain the advised eight hours of sleep each night. And the less you get, the more your weight-gain chances will suffer.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to a reduction in leptin and an increase in ghrelin, which are hormones thought to control hunger and metabolism. As a result of this, the following studies, both from November 2004, make sense:

  • According to a study by Columbia University researchers, people who get four or fewer hours of sleep each night are 73% more likely to be overweight than those who obtain seven to nine hours. The researchers examined the medical records of 6,000 individuals aged 32 to 59. Do you want to add two and a half pounds? You’re 23 percent more likely to be severely overweight if you get 6 hours or less sleep every night.
  • In a research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 12 young men who only slept four hours each night for two nights had a 24% increase in hunger, compared to when they were allowed two 10-hour nights. Cravings for high-calorie, high-carb meals increased significantly.
  • “Does Melatonin Work For Insomnia?”

Getting enough sleep may appear to be a simple solution. However, for some people, it isn’t. “I’ve found that obstructive sleep apnea is quite common and frequently overlooked as a diagnosis when it’s not looked for,” says Dr. Virji. If you believe you get enough sleep but don’t feel rested, you might have sleep apnea (interrupted breathing), insomnia, restless leg syndrome (urge to move your legs), or one of a variety of other sleeping disorders. To discover whether anything is wrong and what you can do about it, see your health-care professional.

“Sleep deprivation’s additional impacts,” according to Dr. Brantley, “may include worsening of diabetes management, hypertension, and significant changes in one’s cognitive ability to think and process information.” Sleep apnea can exacerbate these effects even further, according to Dr. Northup. “Patients with sleep apnea have a greater risk of sudden death as a result of increased strain on the heart and lungs.”

Select Signs and Symptoms


  • Weight gain (or loss)
  • Excess abdominal fat
  • Eating too much (or not enough)


  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of energy and concentration
  • Depression, anxiety, irritability
  • Stomach cramping or bloating
  • Skin problems, such as hives
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Neck and/or back pain
  • Reduced sexual desire
  • In Women: Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Other symptoms related to specific anxiety disorders
  • 8 Natural Anxiety Relievers: Which Ones Work?
  • What to Do for a Panic Attack

5. Stress and Anxiety

2008-03-weight-gain-stress“Chronic stress can have a significant impact on virtually every bodily organ system,” claims Dr. Brantley, “including your heart, brain, thyroid and immune systems, among others.”

Is it possible for your weight to be affected?

“Cortisol levels can be boosted as a result of stress and anxiety,” Dr. Brantley explains. Cushing’s syndrome is associated with this same hormone. He continues, however, “The cortisol levels in people with established Cushing’s are thought to be much higher than what would be expected in a patient with stress or anxiety.” Long-term increases in cortisol have yet to be studied thoroughly for their effects on obesity—particularly abdominal obesity—in the chronically stressed.”

However, one thing is certain: If stress and worry cause you to snack more, weight gain is virtually unavoidable no matter what your cortisol levels are.

“If you’re having a lot of trouble with stress or anxiety, see your family doctor to talk about the issues,” advises Dr. Brantley. Anxiety disorders can be treated with medication and psychotherapy.

The National Women’s Health Information Center also has the following stress-reducing suggestions, which are not to be used in place of any required medications or psychotherapy:

  • Unwind by doing yoga, meditation, massage therapy, music, or reading.
  • Make time for yourself—at the very least, 15 minutes every day for a soak, stroll, or calling a friend.
  • Sleep.
  • Exercise.
  • Talk to friends.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Help others.
  • Get a hobby.
  • Set limits (don’t be afraid to say no).
  • Plan your time.

Select Signs and Symptoms


  • Weight gain (or loss)
  • Increased (or decreased) appetite


  • Feelings of despair, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness in the absence of feelings of happiness
  • Loss of enthusiasm or pleasure in activities you formerly enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Headache, digestive difficulties, and chronic pain are examples of persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to therapy.
  • Bipolar disorder is caused by recurrent, severe mood swings called episodes. You may have a manic episode if you have symptoms of euphoria, irritability, decreased sleep requirement, grandiosity, increased talking, rapid thoughts, increased sexual desire, remarkable energy expenditure, poor judgment, and inappropriate social behavior.
  • Why am I sad when I should be happy?

6. Depression

2008-03-weight-gain-depressionRemember what we said about stress, cortisol, and weight? It’s the same here. Long-term sadness can have a detrimental impact on your body if left unchecked, according to Dr. Brantley. “There are several treatments as well as counseling options that may be quite beneficial and possibly life-saving; however, there are some medical conditions that should not be overlooked in causing your depression,” says Dr. Virji.

The vast majority of individuals benefit from therapy—and many people lose weight as a result. Consult with your healthcare provider about your choices. An emergency-room doctor can provide short-term assistance in a time of difficulty.

7. Certain Medications

2008-03-weight-gain-meds-1“Weight gain as a result of medication is quite common,” Dr. Virji adds. “This is bad news since there are several alternative options for medications that can be used to assist with weight loss.” Steroids and several diabetic, blood-pressure, antidepressant, and migraine medicines are examples of drugs that can cause weight gain.

“Furthermore,” adds Dr. Bray, “anticonvulsants and antipsychotic medications can cause weight gain.”

Visit, which is run by the same folks who produce the well-known Physician’s Desk Reference, to learn about potential side effects of your drugs. Of course, don’t stop taking any medicines unless your doctor advises you to do so.

8. Family History of Obesity

You’re more likely to have higher weight if your parents are overweight. Is it the genes or the environment that is responsible? In fact, it might be either one. For many people, upbringing is the sole guilty party. Nature has its consequences for others.

However, don’t be pushed into the inheritance wagon too quickly. Over the last 40 years, obesity prevalence has risen by more than two-thirds, according to Dr. Virji, but “gene changes do not happen that fast.” It takes around 10,000 years for physical [characteristics] to be affected by genetic modifications.”

“The degree to which this component truly affects patients in real life is hotly contested among bariatric experts across the country and even throughout the world,” says Dr. Virji. I strongly feel that the majority of the issue stems from poor lifestyle choices that are very changeable. ”

According to Dr. Seltzer, “There are many reasons for obesity and several things that may be done to assist people in losing weight.”

The Experts

Dr. Allen Brantley, endocrinologist (hormone doctor) with the Mecklenburg Medical Group in Charlotte, North Carolina

George Bray, M.D., former and first executive director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, where he remains as a faculty member and researcher, focusing on obesity and diabetes.

C. Joseph Northup, M.D., bariatric surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Virginia.

Ayaz Virji, M.D., author of The Skinny Book: The 6-Step Methodology for Weight Management (Verona, 2004, $7.50) and medical director of Morton Plant Mease Primary Care Weight Management in Florida.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Similar Posts