Weight Gain: 5 Hidden Reasons You’re Putting On Pounds

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If the needle on your bathroom scale starts creeping upward, or refuses to head downward, you’ll probably suspect the cause of this random weight gain is too many doughnuts, not diseases or drugs. But while the usual culprits-too much food, too little exercise-do account for most excess poundage, there are some surprisingly common medical conditions and widely used prescriptions that can add anywhere from a little to a lot-a whole lot-of excess weight. Here’s a checklist of what to watch for if you inexplicably find weight either packing on or unwilling to pack up and go.

1. Hormonal Havoc

You’d think 40 or more extra pounds would be a clue that something’s amiss. Yet many of the 7-10 percent of premenopausal women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) often go for years unaware that their weight gain is in part due to this underdiagnosed condition, in which the ovaries and sometimes the adrenal glands, for unknown reasons, pump out too much testosterone, according to Andrea Dunaif, M.D., chief of endocrinology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and professor of metabolism and molecular medicine at Northwestern University Medical School. Because the pounds typically pile on gradually beginning around puberty, or sometimes don’t surface until post-pregnancy weight refuses to budge, it’s frequently not obvious to PCOS sufferers, or their doctors, that there’s a medical trigger. Possible tip-offs of PCOS include thinning hair, excess facial hair, severe acne, irregular periods, impaired fertility-all hallmarks of a hormal imbalance.

It’s not the extra testosterone that triggers the weight gain, though. So what does? Short answer: Nobody knows, Dunaif says. While there seems to be a genetic component to PCOS-it runs in families-and a genetic component to the associated weight gain, there’s little to explain why some of those diagnosed develop weight problems while others do not. It is clear that cultural and environmental factors play a part because Europeans, and Americans on the coasts, who may feel more social pressure to be skinny, gain much less weight on average than do their (sometimes literal) sisters in middle America. The encouraging side of this is that while many women with PCOS feel like their weight is an immovable number (and treatment for PCOS does not help with weight loss), studies show that almost any woman with PCOS, treated or not, can, if put on a supervised diet and exercise program, lose 10 percent or more of body weight, Dunaif notes. Dropping such a moderate amount of weight often will, in turn, push male hormone levels down, leading to a resumption of regular periods and improved chances of conception.

2. Thyroid Thickness

For the most part, blaming a sluggish thyroid for excess weight falls in the “you wish” category. “A lot of overweight people sort of hope they have hypothyroidism because it’s treatable,” comments Howard Eisensen, M.D., director of Duke University’s Diet and Fitness Center. “But it’s rare to find someone who’s significantly overweight because of an underactive thyroid. Even if there is decreased thyroid function, correcting it doesn’t do much to correct overweight because it doesn’t cause much gain to begin with.” If weight creep is on a small scale-in the 5- to 10-pound ballpark-it’s possible that hypothyroidism is behind it, though. If you have other telltale symptoms, such as brittle hair and nails, dry skin and a tendency to feel cold, definitely get checked out, or perform a thryroid self-exam. If your thyroid is to blame, treatment should shrink you a bit, but not because of much fat loss.

Another name for hypothyroidism is “myxedema,” which describes a kind of swelling from thick fluidlike tissue that is a hallmark of chronic low thyroid, explains George Bray, M.D., Boyd Professor at Louisiana State University. Most of thyroid-prompted weight gain, therefore, is actually due to excess fluid, not fat; correcting the thyroid problem banishes soggy tissue, along with its poundage, pretty effectively.

3. The Weight of Water

As Bray points out, extra pounds don’t always equal fat, but are sometimes due to fluid retention-familiar to most women from premenstrual symptoms. If puffiness isn’t related to the menstrual cycle, though, it shouldn’t be ignored. “If someone’s retaining a lot of water-enough to add more than a couple of pounds-they’d better get to their physician very quickly to make sure they don’t have heart or kidney failure, both of which can cause edema, or swelling,” cautions Robert Berkowitz, M.D., medical director of the University of Pennsylvania Weight and Eating Disorders Program, though he adds that such problems are much more likely to afflict older women. “If you push a fingertip into your skin and it leaves a real indentation rather than springing back, that’s a tip-off that it’s fluid, not fat.” Other symptoms include shortness of breath (congestive heart disease), decreased urine output and loss of appetite (kidney failure), and fatigue and increased abdominal girth even without weight gain, for both. Liver disease and certain cancers can cause abnormal fluid accumulation in the abdomen as well, so any big boost in your waist size, with or without weight gain, warrants a look by your doctor, Eisensen advises.

4. A Knot In Your Stomach

Unlikely, but worth mentioning: “If women have rapid, unexplained weight gain, it’s possible, though rare, that they have a tumor,” Eisensen reports. One example: ovarian tumors, some of which are benign, such as a dermoid tumor, a weird conglomeration of various body tissues (sometimes including teeth) that grow in the abdomen. “We’ve had patients gain over 100 pounds because of a huge ovarian tumor in their belly,” he adds. Again, don’t ignore any disproportionate expansion of your middle-check it with a physician.

5. An Rx That Rounds Your Weight Up

Do you take any medicines on a regular basis? Then there’s a chance that one of them may be nudging your figure toward the fuller side. “It may be medications, more than diseases, that tend to contribute to weight problems,” Eisensen says, “and it’s helpful for people to know that there may be alternatives.” Some medicines that commonly cause weight gain:

Anti-depressants: Of the widely prescribed SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), many researchers and clinicians believe that paroxetine tends to produce the most weight gain, though typically not more than several pounds. Other antidepressants, like fluoxetine, sertraline and venlafaxine also may lead to weight gain, especially if used long term. “Short-term use of most SSRIs and SNRIs is not associated with weight gain,” Eisensen says, “but if people are on them a year or longer, they can gain a few pounds or more.”

One of the most popular mood stabilizers is bupropion, which if anything, often helps patients drop a few pounds (but side effects may not make it a good choice for all overweight people with depression, Eisensen says). The point is that within each class of anti-depressants are some that tend to produce more weight gain, and some that tend to produce less, Bray explains.

Anti-diabetes drugs: Ironically, medications for Type II diabetes-the kind caused primarily by obesity-are often responsible for further weight gain, creating a vicious cycle. Although it’s not suitable for everyone, one effective anti-diabetes drug called Glucophage does not increase weight, says Berkowitz. And, he says, even some patients on other anti-diabetes drugs may be able to lose weight, under their doctor’s supervision, by scaling back on their dosage or adding a weight-loss drug such as orlistat, which partially blocks fat absorption.

Oral contraceptives: But the low-dose pills commonly prescribed now won’t add more than a few extra pounds, according to Berkowitz. Recent studies also back up that there is less of a connection between certain birth control and weight gain than previously thought.

Steroids: The most commonly prescribed are adrenocorticoids, used to control severe autoimmune problems, including asthma, arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease. Long-term use can increase appetite and hike weight by 20 pounds or more, Berkowitz says, but because the symptoms these steroids alleviate are potentially life-threatening, you don’t have much choice but to be on them when you need to be. However, doctors should be vigilant about cycling patients off medication when they don’t need it, which can help them lose some of the weight they have accumulated, he says.

“Many people who are on a medication and start to gain weight simply stop taking their medicine. Don’t do that!” Berkowitz cautions. “Keep taking it while you ask your doctor about switching to something else.” Whether a drug will cause you to gain weight is hard to predict, Eisensen says. “An anti-depressant that pushes one person’s weight up will push another’s down: Part of one person’s problem may be unrestrained eating, and as the depression comes under control, so does the emotional eating,” he says. “If a medication is a good choice for you, wait and see how it affects you, or look for another way to avoid the weight gain.”

If you’ve added or lost a few pounds recently, don’t panic: Small fluctuations in weight are common, and rarely anything to worry about. But if you’ve packed on 5 pounds or more in a matter of weeks—or even days—it’s time to take notice. “For a guy, five pounds is kind of—ding-ding—something’s going on here,” says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center.

Cheskin explains that weight fluctuations of five pounds are more are fairly typical among women, but not so much among men. Especially if your weight has been stable for months or years, sudden weight gain is noteworthy, he adds. What could be the cause? Here they the six most common explanations.

You’re Eating Too Much Salt

Sodium consumption causes your body to retain water, Cheskin says. Water has weight and volume. So if you eat a lot of salty food several days in a row, you may pack on weight quickly, he says.

Restaurant food—and especially fast food—tends to be loaded with sodium. If you spent a long weekend away from home and you filled your days with takeout and restaurant meals, that could account for your abrupt influx of pounds.

You’re Taking a New Medication

“There are many medications that may cause weight gain,” says W. Scott Butsch, M.D., director of obesity medicine in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, medication may cause up to 15 percent of obesity cases, he says.

Depression medications (including SSRIs) and heart disease drugs (beta blockers) are two common culprits, Butsch explains. But prescription sleep aids, painkillers, and even some allergy-blocking antihistamines can cause “a bump in weight,” he says.

Add steroids and testosterone-boosting drugs or supplements to that list, Cheskin says. These drugs act on your hormones, which could certainly spur a weight increase. That includes OTC or internet-order supplements, he adds.

You’re Eating (or Drinking) More

This one may seem obvious. But if you’ve been consuming more calories than you used to, that change could lead to a five or ten-pound increase in your weight over a period of one or more months, Cheskin says.

“Alcohol is a consideration too,” he adds. “It contains calories just like food.” Especially if you’ve made a change that will consistently add calories to your weekly intake, you may put on weight, he says.

It’s important to recognize that these changes can be subtle. Maybe you’ve started attending a weekly happy hour. Or maybe you bought new dishware, and so your portion sizes have increased without you realizing it. “If you’re eating just 500 calories more a week, over time that can add up,” he says.

You’re Moving Less

Even small changes to your physical activity habits can spur weight gain, Cheskin says. “Maybe you used to walk a lot for work, and now you’re driving,” he suggests.

If you used to lift weights and you’ve stopped, that could also account for your weight gain—even if you replaced that strength training with some other form of exercise. Cheskin says that muscle mass (and the strength training that builds it) tend to keep your metabolism elevated, which helps you burn calories.

Ditch your usual gym regimen—or vary it in ways that cause you to lose muscle mass—and the downshift in your metabolism could cause you to add some weight, he says.

You Recently Lost Weight

It would be really, really nice if lost weight stayed lost. But just the opposite is true.

“Our body weight and body fat are tightly regulated, and will act to maintain balance,” Butsch says. Put another way, any pounds you manage to drop are likely to return—even if you keep up your weight-loss routines, he adds.

So if you recently dropped some weight, it’s very likely that you’ll put some of it back on—regardless of how much you’re eating or exercising.

You Have an Endocrine Disorder

Roughly one in five adults has an underactive thyroid—also known as hypothyroidism—according to the National Institutes of Health. While this condition is much more common in women, Cheskin says plenty of men experience hypothyroidism, which can cause sudden and significant weight gain.

While less typical, some other hormone disorders—namely, Cushing’s disease—can also cause weight gain, Butsch says. If you have one of these endocrine disorders, weight gain probably won’t be your only symptom, he adds. Fatigue, weakness, headaches, problems thinking, and depression or irritability are all signs of these hormone disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Southeast Michigan is experiencing an outbreak of hepatitis A. Information about this outbreak is at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website. Vaccination is recommended to prevent hepatitis A.

if you are concerned about symptoms or risk for viral hepatitis, and you are a U-M student or other UHS patient, you may call for Nurse Advice by Phone.

How to get immunized:

Immunization is an effective means to prevent hepatitis A and B. See Immunizations for details.

On this page:

  • What is viral hepatitis?
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • More information

What is viral hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis is an infection of the liver caused by a virus that attacks liver cells. The resulting inflammation may impair the liver’s ability to aid in digestion of food and to remove toxins from the blood. Symptoms range from mild to severe, but some individuals have no symptoms. Infrequently, acute infections can be fatal.

There are several types of viral hepatitis, called A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Of all types of hepatitis, A, B and C are the most common in the US and so will be described below.

Hepatitis A:

Hepatitis A (formerly called infectious hepatitis) is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A is more common in developing countries than in the US, although hepatitis A is increasing in the US, including in southeast Michigan.

Transmission is through food or water that is contaminated with feces, through anal/oral contact, and rarely through blood.

Symptoms: Some people with hepatitis A have no noticeable symptoms. Onset is usually abrupt with fever, tiredness, lack of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea, followed within a few days by jaundice (which results in a yellow appearance of skin and eyes). Symptoms can vary from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to (rarely) a disabling disease lasting several months. Complete recovery, without chronic liver disease, is usual. Incubation period is 15-50 days, averaging 28-30 days.

Diagnosis: A blood test is available, but it is not useful unless initial symptoms develop.

Treatment: There is no treatment for hepatitis A. In 99% of reported cases, the infection will clear up over a period of a few weeks to months.

Prevention: Vaccination is recommended for groups listed on the CDC website. In addition, UHS strongly recommends that U-M food workers and U-M students be vaccinated. In the US, hepatitis A became a routine childhood vaccination in 2006, so many students have already been vaccinated.

Hepatitis A vaccination usually is given in two doses, 6 months apart. If the vaccine is given in two doses, travelers may receive the second dose 4-6 weeks before departure.) See also Immunizations.

An injection of immune globulin within 2 weeks of known exposure reduces risk of developing the disease.

Also, avoid contaminated water and food, practice good hygiene, and avoid oral-anal contact during sex.

Hepatitis B:

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Transmission is through blood and other body fluids contaminated with blood. All individuals who are chronically infected may be able to transmit it. Routes of transmission include:

  • Sexual contact including vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse (more likely because of greater tearing of tissues) and oral sex
  • Exposure to infected blood that comes into contact with cuts, open sores or mucous membranes
  • Sharing unsterilized needles and other equipment while injecting substances such as heroin, cocaine, steroids, etc.
  • Piercing the skin with unsterilized instruments such as those used in tattooing, body piercing, electrolysis or acupuncture
  • Sharing personal hygiene items such as razors or toothbrushes
  • From mother to newborn baby

Symptoms: Many people have no noticeable symptoms. Symptoms may develop slowly and include lack of appetite, abdominal discomfort, nausea and vomiting, sometimes joint pain and rash, often progressing to jaundice (which results in a yellow appearance of the skin and eyes). Fever may be absent or mild. Incubation period is 45-180 days, rarely as long as 9 months, averaging 60-90 days.

Approximately 2-10% of adults and 25-80% of children under the age of 5 will not be able to clear the virus in six months following infection and are considered to be chronically infected. Long term, chronic hepatitis B can cause liver cell damage, leading to cirrhosis and cancer.

Diagnosis: A blood test is available.

Treatment: Antiviral drugs are occasionally used for chronic infections. New treatments show promise.

Prevention: A vaccine is available for people of any age and especially recommended for:

  • Babies at birth
  • Children 0-18 who have not been vaccinated
  • People with occupational risk, e.g. healthcare and public safety workers
  • Childcare workers and teachers
  • People traveling to high risk countries for more than 6 months
  • Household contacts and sex partners of HBV carriers
  • People who have intimate and/or sexual contact with chronic carriers of hepatitis B
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who have kidney disease, HIV, chronic liver disease, or diabetes

The vaccine consists of 3 or 4 doses, depending on the schedule. Also a specially prepared injection of immune globulin within 2 weeks of known exposure reduces risk of transmission. See also Immunizations.


  • Abstain from sex or practice safer sex, including using latex or polyurethane condoms.
  • If you use injection drugs, do not share equipment. See also Strategies for Disease Prevention from the CDC.
  • Treat all body fluids as if potentially infectious and protect yourself accordingly.
  • Choose a reputable business for tattoos and piercings; inquire about sterilization techniques.
  • Do not share personal hygiene items such as razors and toothbrushes.

Hepatitis C:

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Transmission is primarily through infected blood or blood products. The primary current route of transmission is injection drug use. It is not easily transmitted through sex. In about 10-20% of cases, transmission route has not been identified.

Symptoms: 70-75% of people have no noticeable symptoms. Symptoms may develop gradually with loss of appetite, fatigue, abdominal discomfort, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes progressing to jaundice (which results in a yellow appearance of skin and eyes). Incubation period ranges from 2 weeks to 6 months, averaging 6-9 weeks.

Up to 85% of people with hepatitis C develop chronic infection, which is often asymptomatic. Some develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Chronic hepatitis C infection also substantially increases risk for liver cancer.

Diagnosis: A blood test is available. Tests for hepatitis C typically become positive within 6 months after infection occurs. You may be at risk for hepatitis C and should contact your health care provider for a blood test if you:

  • Were notified that you received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C
  • Have ever injected illegal drugs, even if you experimented a few times many years ago
  • Received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July, 1992
  • Received a blood product for clotting problems produced before 1987
  • Have ever been on long-term kidney dialysis
  • Have evidence of liver disease
  • Are a health care or public safety worker who has been exposed to infected blood

Treatment: Eradication of the virus may be possible with drug therapy.

Prevention: No vaccine is available. Prevention methods include:

  • Abstain from sex or practice safer sex, including using latex or polyurethane condoms.
  • Do not share injection drug equipment.
  • Treat all body fluids as if potentially infectious and protect yourself accordingly.
  • Choose a reputable business for tattoos and piercing; inquire about sterilization techniques.
  • Do not share personal hygiene items such as razors and toothbrushes.

More information:

  • Hepatitis Foundation International : 1-800-891-0707
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Hepatitis Branch : 1-888-443-7232
  • American Liver Foundation : 1-800-223-0179 (GOLIVER) or 1-888-443-7222 (4HEPABC)
  • The Immunization Action Coalition Vaccine Information Statements are available in multiple languages (use Adobe Acrobat Reader to view these PDF files)

Image on this page is “DSCF0664” by benandbarnet is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

5,331 Possible Causes for Headache, Loss of Appetite, Nausea

  • Acute Gastritis

    Side effects of proton pump inhibitors include: Abdominal pain Headache Constipation Diarrhea Fever Nausea Vomiting Flatulence Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs Depends on the etiology (see below). asymptomatic epigastric pain/tenderness nausea and vomiting loss of appetite Etiology infection: H. pylori (most common) systemic illness Symptoms can include indigestion, a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. In severe cases blood or substances that resemble coffee grounds may be vomited.

  • Chronic Kidney Insufficiency

    Headaches. High blood pressure may trigger headaches. Hypertension, or high blood pressure. The waste buildup can make you sick and you may have these symptoms: swelling of the ankles, face or belly, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, confusion and headaches All phosphate binders may cause constipation , nausea, vomiting , bowel obstruction, and fecal impaction.

  • Hepatitis

    are not reheated after contact with an infected food handler Incubation Period 28 days average (ranges from 15 to 50 days) Symptoms Diarrhea, dark urine, jaundice, fever, headache In this report, we present a 19-year-old patient presented with nausea, fatigue and jaundice. Others may have Loss of appetite Nausea and vomiting Diarrhea Dark-colored urine and pale bowel movements Stomach pain Jaundice, yellowing of skin and eyes Some forms of hepatitis

  • Hepatitis A

    The symptoms of dehydration include the following: Feeling weak, tired, or “blah” Feeling confused or unable to concentrate Rapid heartbeat Headache Urinating less frequently These are followed by diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, and arthralgia. Symptoms include: Fever Tiredness Nausea Loss of appetite Abdominal pains Dark urine Pale coloured faeces Jaundice (yellow colour of the skin and eyes), rare in young children

  • Depression

    RESULTS: A quick and complete abrogation of the depression ensued along with improvement of migraine headaches, insomnia, and chronic fatigue. The present report discusses the case of a 70-year-old woman admitted to our institution due to sudden-onset nausea and vomiting. The following are the signs and symptoms exhibited: Too little sleep or excessive sleeping Loss of appetite accompanied by weight loss in some, while increase in appetite

  • Addisonian Crisis

    Nausea, vomiting, headache, and fatigue are also common symptoms alongside profound sweating that is localized on the palmar surface of the hands and face. Patients may experience lightheadedness or dizziness, weakness, sweating, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, or even loss of consciousness. The types of emergencies include a range of presentations such as semiconsciousness, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, weakness, nausea, headache, slurred speech, chest

  • Dyspepsia

    Side effects of H2RAs may include headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and unusual bleeding or bruising. Symptoms are similar to GERD – heartburn, nausea, chest pain,excessive belching. of appetite, heartburn, regurgitation of food or acid, and belching.

  • Alcohol Withdrawal

    . * Headaches * Treatment of menstrual cramps * To reduce tachycardia (high pulse rate). * Restless leg syndrome * Treatment of restlessness * Post traumatic stress disorder Alcohol withdrawal syndrome begins six to 24 hours after the last intake of alcohol, and the signs and symptoms include tremors, agitation, nausea, sweating, vomiting, hallucinations of appetite Nausea Vomiting Rapid heart rate Sweating Tremors of the hands or other parts of the body A more severe form of alcohol withdrawal, known as delirium tremens

  • Pneumonia

    They may not feel ill enough to demand a day of school, but they could be tired, suffering from headaches, a minor feever or a dry cough. chills Shortness of breath Rapid, shallow breathing Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue Nausea Early symptoms are similar to flu symptoms, which include: Fever Dry cough Headache Sore throat Loss of appetite Muscle pain Additional symptoms about a day later: High fever

  • Temporal Arteritis

    The present case is an 81-year-old woman diagnosed with GCA, who initially presented with features similar to tension-type headache. A variety of systemic symptoms are also often present, including nausea, vomiting, chills, dizziness, and loss of weight. They almost always affect people over the age of 50.early symptoms of giant cell arteritis resemble the flu: fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever.

  • What causes a loss of appetite?

    Normally most people have a regular desire to eat food – an ‘appetite’. Eating is an essential part of life, giving us the energy and nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. If you lose your appetite, there is usually a reason behind it, and it often has a medical or psychological cause. Most often, having no appetite is a short-term problem. Most of us have experienced this with a flu-like viral illness or tummy bug (gastroenteritis), or in times of extreme stress (such as an exam or a bereavement). Sometimes, however, it can go on for longer. In this case it may signify a more important medical problem.

    There are many reasons why appetite may be lost. Some are serious conditions, others are not. Possible causes include:

    • Infection. This includes short-term infections (such as flu, common colds, urine infections, chest infections, tummy bugs, etc) and more long-lasting infections such as tuberculosis (TB) or HIV. Usually there will be other symptoms specific to the infection.
    • Medication. Many medicines can cause loss of appetite as a side-effect, including some antidepressants such as fluoxetine, methylphenidate used for ADHD, chemotherapy, some medicines for type 2 diabetes, and strong painkillers (opiates).
    • Stress and anxiety.
    • Depression. A loss of appetite can be a symptom of depression, along with other symptoms such as low mood, loss of concentration, and poor sleep.
    • Conditions causing breathlessness. If it is difficult to breathe, it may be hard to eat at the same time as breathe. Medical conditions causing this might include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, asthma, pulmonary embolus, and congestive heart failure.
    • Acid reflux and indigestion.
    • Problems with the mouth and teeth. Any problem which makes it difficult to chew food, swallow it or taste it might interfere with appetite. For example, toothache, poorly-fitting dentures, dental abscesses, a dry mouth, jaw dysfunction or loss of taste.
    • Congestion of the nose and surrounding areas due to allergies, polyps, or infections.
    • Conditions affecting the guts, including coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, and diverticulitis.
    • Cystic fibrosis. This is an inherited condition which can affect appetite through the damage it causes to the lungs and pancreas.
    • Gallstones. These can cause severe pain particularly after eating fatty foods.
    • Cancer. Many different cancers can cause loss of appetite, and many treatments for cancers cause loss of appetite. Usually lack of appetite is accompanied by other symptoms specific to that particular cancer, but sometimes loss of appetite can be an early cancer symptom.
    • Constipation.
    • Diabetes mellitus.
    • Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).
    • Disruption to the senses. Enjoyment of eating is enhanced by seeing the food, smelling it and tasting it. So if any of these senses are lost, it can have an effect on appetite – ie if there is loss of vision, loss of taste or loss of smell.
    • Alcohol excess or use of illicit drugs.
    • Anorexia nervosa. Extreme weight loss and a fear of food can reduce appetite.
    • Age. Appetite tends to decline as people get older, and they may naturally eat less. This may be due to another cause, such as one of the above, or due to a decline in activity. Also the stomach empties more slowly in older age, so older people may feel full for longer.
    • Long-lasting (chronic) health conditions such as chronic pain, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease and dementia.

    What should I do if I have lost my appetite?

    If a loss of appetite persists, and there is no obvious reason for it, see your GP. As you can see above, there is a huge list of potential causes. Your GP will want to rule out the more serious causes – in particular, cancer.

    It is particularly important to see your GP as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms associated with a persisting lack of appetite:

    • Unintentional weight loss.
    • Difficulty swallowing.
    • Pain in your tummy (abdominal pain).
    • Swelling of your tummy.
    • Night sweats.
    • Feeling sick (nausea).
    • Tiredness.
    • Low mood.
    • Feeling out of breath.

    What tests will I need?

    Your GP will be able to narrow down the possible causes by asking you about your symptoms and examining you. He or she will probably suggest some blood tests, which may give clues as to the cause. An ultrasound scan of the tummy may be helpful in some cases, and/or a chest X-ray. Further tests may then be indicated depending on what the likely diagnosis seems to be.

    What is the treatment?

    This will entirely depend on the cause which is found. Generally speaking, the most important thing is to establish the cause so that it can be quickly treated if possible. Your appetite keeps you eating, which keeps you healthy and strong. See the separate leaflet called Healthy Eating for more information.

    13 Health Conditions That Can Make You Gain Weight

    There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing you’re gaining weight. Sometimes it’s not your fault. Unexplained weight gain can actually be a side effect of an underlying health condition you may not know you have. A doctor can help diagnose and treat these issues, which will get your weight back on track.

    1. Cushing’s syndrome

    Though it’s not likely you have it, Cushing’s syndrome can lead to weight gain. | iStock.com

    • How many diagnosed: about 3 in 1 million Americans annually
    • Other symptoms: acne, high blood pressure, muscle weakness

    Caused by unusually high cortisol levels, Cushing’s syndrome is more serious than the average weight-related issue, says Healthline. Depression, stress, and even some medications can cause the stress hormone to elevate. Your chances of being diagnosed are extremely rare. However, if the symptoms seem familiar, check with a medical professional; Cushing’s can be fatal if left untreated.

    Next: Have you heard of this kind of tumor?

    2. Prolactinoma

    Benign tumors can cause weight gain. | iStock.com

    • How many diagnosed: about 1 in 10,000 Americans
    • Other symptoms: reduced sex drive, headaches, vision disorders

    These benign tumors develop in your pituitary gland, the area of your brain that secretes a hormone called prolactin, according to Livestrong.com. Though prolactinomas aren’t cancerous, these tumors cause your pituitary gland to produce more of the hormone, resulting in unwanted weight gain.

    According to Mayo Clinic, in some cases, long-term medication is enough to treat prolactinomas. Your doctor might also recommend surgery to remove the tumor, which also fixes the problem.

    Next: A mental health condition with highs and lows

    4. Bipolar disease

    The depressive stage of bipolar disease can involve overeating. | Source: iStock

    • How many diagnosed: about 5 million U.S. adults
    • Other side effects: spending sprees, unprotected sex, drug use, deep sadness, loss of energy, sleeping too much or too little

    You can mark this mental illness by observing extreme mood shifts, like depression and mania. Depression caused by bipolar lasts at least two weeks, according to Healthline. During this time, the person may overeat, causing weight gain. Although bipolar disease can make everyday life difficult, medication and therapy can alleviate the frustrating symptoms.

    Next: A broken heart affects your feelings — and your figure.

    2. Congestive heart failure

    Weight gain can occur at the beginning stages of congestive heart failure. | iStock.com/mheim3011

    • How many diagnosed: 5.7 million adults in the U.S.
    • Other symptoms: joint swelling, excessive urination, irregular heartbeat, wheezing,

    This chronic progressive condition hurts your heart muscles, causing the organ to pump inefficiently. When this happens, fluids back up inside your liver, lungs, abdomen, or lower body. Notably, weight gain is one early symptom of congestive heart failure. Annual checkups will help your doctor check for heart problems like hypertension, coronary artery disease, and valve conditions; they can all cause congestive heart failure.

    Next: How you handle anxiety is key.

    10. Generalized anxiety disorder

    Generalized anxiety disorder can lead to overeating. | iStock.com/SIphotography

    • How many diagnosed: 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population
    • Other symptoms: fear, hypervigilance, lack of concentration, difficulty falling asleep, palpitations

    Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Generalized anxiety disorder, however, goes beyond the occasional nervousness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association, those with GAD face constant tension and worry, even if you know it’s irrational. Chronic stress produces more stress hormones, and heightened cortisol levels encourage your body to hold onto fat. You could also experience more intense food cravings.

    Both medication and talk therapy can help you manage GAD symptoms, especially if your first response to a stressful situation is to eat all the chocolate you can find.

    Next: There’s no cure for this disease, but you can manage it and lose some pounds.

    9. Hypothyroidism

    A sluggish thyroid will stall your metabolism. | iStock.com/Nerthuz

    • How many diagnosed: approximately 10 million Americans
    • Other symptoms: fatigue, brittle nails, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, sexual dysfunction

    The hormone your thyroid produces controls your metabolism. But the Mayo Clinic says when your thyroid stops creating enough hormone, your metabolism slows. This condition, hypothyroidism, often causes weight gain. Since these symptoms are common in conditions like depression, your doctor can check your hormone levels to rule out thyroid issues. A prescribed oral medication can correct thyroid issues and get your metabolism back to normal.

    Next: A hidden battle in your body

    3. Hashimoto’s disease

    Lower back pain is an odd but common symptom of Hashimoto’s. | Tom Merton/Getty Images

    • How many diagnosed: about 14 million Americans
    • Other symptoms: constipation, hoarse voice, high cholesterol, lower body muscle weakness, feeling sluggish, thinning hair

    This autoimmune disease makes white blood cells and antibodies mistakenly attack the cells of your thyroid, causing weight gain and other issues. Although the cause of Hashimoto’s isn’t clear, explains Healthline, some scientists think it’s genetic. Symptoms may not appear for years, and heart problems, anemia, or high cholesterol could develop if the disease is left untreated.

    Next: Overeating is common with this uncomfortable condition.

    5. Gastroesophageal reflux disease

    Since certain foods can relieve heartburn, many people with this condition end up overeating. | iStock.com

    • How many affected: an estimated 15-30% of the U.S. population
    • Other symptoms: heartburn, belching, difficulty swallowing, tooth erosion

    Gastroesophageal reflux disease causes the muscle between the esophagus and stomach to relax, according to WebMD, allowing stomach contents to flow back into your esophagus (gross). Resulting in painful heartburn, the condition itself isn’t what causes people to gain weight.

    The added pounds come from people overeating to temporarily reduce the effects of GERD, says Redbook. Food and saliva can counteract stomach acid in your esophagus, but it won’t last. Eating to temporarily relieve pain is nearly guaranteed to cause weight gain. Dietary and lifestyle changes, and sometimes medications, can improve GERD symptoms and prevent overeating.

    Next: This is one irritating condition.

    7. Irritable bowel syndrome

    IBS can also lead to weight loss, but most people overcompensate on days when they feel good. | iStock.com

    • How many diagnosed: about 20% of the U.S. population
    • Other symptoms: bloating, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits

    According to Healthline, irritable bowel syndrome is a GI disorder that causes pain and discomfort. Symptoms often occur in flares, meaning some days you won’t feel well and subsequently won’t eat much. On days you feel better, though, those with IBS can overeat, which will cause weight gain. Livestrong.com suggests high-fiber foods and exercise to relieve uncomfortable IBS symptoms, while red meat and caffeine trigger it.

    Next: Your emotional and physical health can both be compromised with this disorder.

    8. Persistent depressive disorder

    This depression disorder can cause a change in eating habits. | iStock.com

    • How many diagnosed: between 25 and 45 million Americans
    • Other symptoms: ongoing sadness, feelings of hopelessness, changes in sleep

    Persistent depressive disorder, a milder type of chronic depression, can wreck both your emotional and physical health. According to Healthline, those diagnosed often experience changes in appetite, making overeating more probable. If you often eat when you’re sad, a combination of medication and ongoing therapy can help you learn to cope with your feelings.

    Next: This one only affects women.

    11. Polycystic ovarian syndrome

    Lifestyle changes can help with PCOS. | iStock.com/Bogdanhoda

    • How many diagnosed: 1 in 10 women of childbearing age
    • Other symptoms: ovarian cysts, abnormal menstruation, acne, depression, unwanted hair

    Like hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome is a health condition caused by a hormonal imbalance. Mayo Clinic says women must have at least two symptoms to receive a PCOS diagnosis. Unfortunately, many women with PCOS gain weight. If you experience irregular periods and unexplained weight gain, check with your doctor.

    Next: Blame the aging process for this.

    12. Menopause

    Menopause can cause weight gain. | iStock.com

    • How many diagnosed: For women, the onset of menopause begins, on average, at 51 years old.
    • Other symptoms: night sweats, osteoporosis, hot flashes, insomnia, loss of hair, moodiness

    Maintaining a healthy weight becomes more difficult as you age. Unfortunately, weight gain is much more common — and happens faster — in women over 50. Mayo Clinic explains the hormonal changes women experience during menopause can put on extra pounds, particularly in the abdomen. Eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep are especially valuable for women experiencing this life stage.

    Next: Pregnancy obviously leads to weight gain, but this accelerates it.

    13. Gestational diabetes

    Gestational diabetes can cause excess weight gain for pregnant women. | iStock.com/tamaravidmar

    • How many diagnosed: 6-8% of pregnant women
    • Other symptoms: excessive hunger or thirst and/or excessive urination

    Most of us are familiar with types 1 and type 2 diabetes. Did you know there’s a third type, called gestational diabetes? According to HealthCentral, non-diabetic women can develop this type during their fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. During this time, the body produces enough insulin, but hormones made in the placenta block the effect it’s supposed to have on blood sugar.

    The good news is, gestational diabetes typically disappears after the baby is born. If you’re pregnant and gaining more weight than you should, check with your doctor to receive proper treatment.

    Additional reporting by Lauren Weiler and Meg Dowell

    Obesity is usually the result of overeating, but in a small percentage of people excess weight gain is a symptom of another disease.

    Medical causes of obesity can include:

    • Hypothyroidism. This is a condition where the thyroid gland, located in the neck, produces too little thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone regulates our metabolism. So too little hormone slows the metabolism and often causes weight gain. If your doctor suspects thyroid disease as a cause of your obesity, he or she may perform blood tests to check your hormone levels.
    • Cushing’s syndrome. This condition results when the adrenal glands (located on top of each kidney) produce an excess amount of a steroid hormone called cortisol. This leads to a build-up of fat in characteristic sites such as the face, upper back, and abdomen.
    • Depression. Some people with depression overeat, which can lead to obesity.

    There are also certain inherited conditions and other diseases of the brain that can cause excess weight gain.

    Certain medications, notably steroids, and also some antidepressants, antipsychotics, high blood pressure drugs, and seizure medications can also cause increased body weight.

    A doctor can determine if any of these conditions or treatments are responsible for your obesity.

    8 Conditions That Could Explain Your Sudden Weight Gain

    You know you might put on extra pounds if you regularly skip barre class or keep selecting M&Ms when you hit up the office vending machine. But if you haven’t changed your eating and exercise habits yet the number on the scale has suddenly crept up, something more could be going on.

    Carrying extra pounds isn’t necessarily a problem, of course. But it could signal an underlying medical issue you’ll want to address. Maybe it’s a hormone condition, or a mood disorder, or another factor altering your physiology without you realizing it. The only way to be 100% sure of what it means is to consult your doctor. In the meantime, consider these 8 health-related reasons that might explain why the scale has soared.

    RELATED: Pasta Was Linked to Weight Loss in a New Study–and We Know What We’re Having for Dinner Tonight

    An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)

    Aside from realizing that your jeans are more snug, have you noticed other body changes—like exhaustion, drier skin, or thinner hair? These are all signs of hypothyroidism, a condition in which the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in your neck isn’t producing enough of thyroid hormone. Your thyroid is kind of a master gland controlling many body functions, so when it’s not working right, symptoms appear throughout your system.

    A major function it controls is your metabolism. “Think of your body as a car. You have an engine, and the thyroid hormone maintains the idling of the engine,” Michael Nusbaum, MD, bariatric surgeon and founder of Healthy Weight Loss Centers, tells Health. “If you’re not producing enough thyroid hormone, your idle gets turned down and you’re not burning as much energy overall.” When your resting metabolism slows, it decreases the amount of calories you burn throughout the day.

    One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime, according to the American Thyroid Association. Dr. Nusbaum says other symptoms to look out for are muscle weakness, constantly feeling cold, bloating, and constipation. If your doctor diagnoses hypothyroidism, you’ll likely be prescribed an oral replacement for thyroid hormone that can alleviate symptoms, including weight creepage, within weeks.

    RELATED: 5 Signs You’re Getting Fitter—Even if the Scale Hasn’t Budged

    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

    PCOS is another condition caused by out-of-whack hormones. This endocrine disorder is characterized by an imbalance in the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone (women produce testosterone too, though in much smaller quantities than men do). This imbalance leads to irregular periods, acne, and even facial hair growth.

    This disorder, which strikes one in 10 women of childbearing age, also disrupts the way the body uses insulin—the hormone responsible for converting carbohydrates into energy, Dr. Nusbaum says. Yep, you guessed it, that means weight gain. When your body becomes insulin resistant, the sugars and starches you consume are stored as fat instead of turned into fuel, he explains.

    While there’s no cure for PCOS, women who have it can manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes as well as medication. Your doctor will help you find the method that’s right for you.

    Mood disorders like depression and anxiety

    Dealing with anxious or sad feelings by mindlessly munching is something almost all of us do on occasion. But either of these mood disorders can make overeating a regular coping mechanism. Dr. Nusbaum gives the example of breaking open a bag of chips, and after three, four, then five handfuls, “you’re not even tasting the chips anymore, your taste buds are completely saturated with the flavor, but you’re still eating, and you’re thinking, Why am I still eating?”

    Depression and anxiety can both bring on fatigue, irritability, and a lack of focus. All three can throw you off your game when you work out or lead you to ditch the gym altogether…and pretty soon, pounds pack on.

    Reflect on your mood over the past few weeks. If you’ve been consistently down on yourself, on edge, disinterested in things you usually enjoy, or have had trouble sleeping, consider asking your MD for a referral to a mental health professional. A therapist can help get to the bottom of what’s going on, and with proper treatment, help you keep extra pounds at bay.

    RELATED: 6 Ways to Stop Weekend Weight Gain

    Perimenopause and menopause

    How the five or so years leading up to menopause affects you partially depends on genetics, Dr. Nusbaum says. “I joke around with my patients because they’ll typically come in saying, ‘Holy crap, I’m starting to look like my mother.’” One way to get an idea of the way your body will change during perimenopause and then menopause itself is by asking your mom what changes she noticed in herself. Though your experience could be different than hers, there’s a good chance it’ll be similar—so if she began gaining weight at this point in her life, it could be the explanation for your weight change.

    Once again, hormones are to blame for the extra pounds. “The rapid reduction in the amount of hormones present in your body throws you off kilter pretty quickly,” Dr. Nusbaum says. Lifestyle changes can help, so talk to your ob-gyn.

    RELATED: The 50 Best Weight Loss Foods of All Time

    Cushing’s disease

    Cortisol is nicknamed the stress hormone, Diondra Atoyebi, DO, family physician at Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia, tells Health; your body releases it in response to overwhelming or dangerous situations. But when your system makes too much cortisol over an extended period of time, you can develop Cushing’s disease. One unpleasant side effect: abnormal fatty deposits in the abdominal area and around the face.

    If you’re taking long-term steroids, you’re more likely to develop Cushing’s disease, Dr. Atoyebi says. The condition can also be brought on by tumors on the pituitary gland in the brain, which triggers an uptick in the production and release of adrenocorticotropic hormone—the catalyst that signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.

    Weight gain is a hallmark sign of Cushing’s, but other symptoms include discolored stretch marks, acne, and fragile skin. Depending on the cause, Cushing’s disease can be treated in a variety of ways. If you have Cushing’s disease, your doctor will help you determine what’s best.

    An ovarian or uterine tumor

    Earlier this month, a 53-year-old woman in Singapore had a 61-pound tumor removed from from her uterus after showing up at the hospital struggling to breathe. To grow so large, the tumor was likely developing inside her for years. It’s an extreme case, sure. But it shows that if left untreated, large pelvic area tumors, such as uterine or ovarian tumors, can distend the abdomen the way excess fat does and send the scale soaring. In the case of the Singaporean woman, the tumor was benign, but others can be cancerous.

    In addition to weight gain, symptoms of ovarian or uterine tumors include lower back pain, vaginal bleeding, painful intercourse, and constipation. But these signs are common for other conditions as well, Dr. Nusbaum says, which is why you should always consult your doctor to confirm the root cause of the problem.

    RELATED: 10 Foods to Eat More of If You’re Trying to Lose Weight, According to Nutritionists


    Before starting any new OTC or prescription medication, ask your doctor if extra pounds are a possible side effect. Psychiatric medications, especially for depression and bipolar disorder, commonly cause weight gain, Dr. Nusbaum says. “They act centrally on the brain, and while they intend to lower your depression, they inadvertently increase your desire to eat.”

    Meds that combat high blood pressure can also cause extra poundage, Susan Besser, MD, family practitioner at Mercy Personal Physicians in Maryland, tells Health. Another culprit is taking insulin, a frustrating side effect for people who are battling diabetes—because maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to managing the disease. Staying active and sticking to a strict meal plan can help you take insulin without adding pounds.


    If you rock up to work on only four hours of sleep, you’ll probably turn to snacking to give you the energy to get through the day. Why does exhaustion trigger cravings? Dr. Besser says lack of sleep messes with your hunger-regulating hormones. Levels of ghrelin, a hormone that tells your body it’s time to eat, increase after a restless night. At the same time, leptin, the hormone that signals fullness, may plunge. Put the two together, and no wonder your belt feels tight.

    Sleep deprivation can also affect your decision making. Let’s say you can eat either a banana or a cookie. When you’re tired, you become more impulsive, and that impulsivity can coax you into grabbing that Oreo. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that getting more shuteye can mean consuming up to 10 fewer grams of sugar throughout the day. That’s the best reason to turn in early that we’ve heard in a long time.

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