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Weight gain - unintentional

Unintentional weight gain is when you gain weight without trying to do so and you are not eating or drinking more.

Causes

Gaining weight when you are not trying to do so can have many causes.

Metabolism slows down as you age . This can cause weight gain if you eat too much, eat the wrong foods, or do not get enough exercise.

Drugs that can cause weight gain include:

  • Birth control pills
  • Corticosteroids
  • Some drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression
  • Some drugs used to treat diabetes

Hormone changes or medical problems can also cause unintentional weight gain. This may be due to:

  • Cushing syndrome
  • Underactive thyroid, or low thyroid (Hypothyroidism)
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy

Bloating, or swelling due to a buildup of fluid in the tissues can cause weight gain. This may be due to menstruation, heart or kidney failure, preeclampsia, or medicines you take. A rapid weight gain may be a sign of dangerous fluid retention.

If you quit smoking, you might gain weight. Most people who quit smoking gain 4 - 10 pounds in the first 6 months after quitting. Some gain as much as 25 - 30 pounds. This weight gain is not simply due to eating more.

Home Care

A healthy diet and exercise program can help you manage your weight. Talk to your health care provider or a dietitian about how to make a healthy eating plan and set realistic weight goals.

Do not stop any medicines that may be causing the weight gain without talking with your health care provider.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if you have the following symptoms with the weight gain:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and calculate your body mass index (BMI) . The health care provider may also ask questions, such as:

  • How much weight have you gained? Did you gain the weight quickly or slowly?
  • Are you anxious, depressed, or under stress? Do you have a history of depression?
  • What medicines do you take?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

You may have the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Tests to measure hormone levels
  • Nutritional assessment

Your health care provider may suggest a diet and exercise program or refer you o a dietitian. Weight gain caused by stress or feeling sad may require counseling. If weight gain is caused by a physical illness, treatment (if there is any) for the underlying cause will be prescribed.

References

Anderson GJ, Hensrud DD. Obesity. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 36.

Seagle HM, Strain GW, Makris A, et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association: weight management. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:330-346.

Updated: 10/22/2013

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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