thyroid illustration
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You may start packing on the pounds if your thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, stops making enough hormones. It also could thin your hair, dry your skin, and make you feel colder, tired, constipated, and even depressed. A simple blood test can confirm if your hormone levels are low, and artificial hormones can help you feel better.

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depressed man
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Weight gain and even obesity are among the possible physical side effects. People with this mood disorder often have higher levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol, which may cause fat to gather around your belly. Or you may pack on the pounds because you feel too down to eat right or exercise. Certain medications used to treat the condition also could do it. Talk to your doctor or a therapist if you feel depressed.

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woman with insomnia
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People who get less than 6 hours of shut-eye a night tend to have more body fat. About 8 hours is the sweet spot for keeping the weight off. Lack of sleep can cause your body to make too much of the hormones cortisol and insulin, which can add pounds. It also can mess up the hormones that signal hunger and make you crave food, especially those loaded with fat and sugar.

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woman with menopause
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Less estrogen during menopause can put more fat around your belly. But less hormones isn’t the only cause. Hot flashes, sleep problems, and moodiness linked to the end of a woman’s fertility may get in the way of healthy eating and exercise. If you’re already sleep deprived and depressed, you might reach for a candy bar instead of making a nutritious meal. Your doctor can suggest ways to help with your symptoms.

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stretch marks
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Cushing’s Disease

Usually, cortisol helps keep your blood pressure and blood sugar in a healthy range. But when your adrenal glands make too much of this stress hormone, it can add fat to your belly and the base of your neck. You might bruise more and notice weaker, thinner limbs, a round face, and big purple stretch marks. Your doctor will try to figure out the cause, and then treat it with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or drugs to lower cortisol.

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ovarian cysts
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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

There’s no one test that can tell a woman they have this disease. You may skip periods, sprout more hair on your face or body, or get acne. Also, cysts may grow on your ovaries. Too much male androgen hormone causes it. You also could gain weight because you’re less sensitive to insulin, a hormone that helps your body turn blood sugar into energy. Your doctor can help balance or replace the hormones.

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heart illustration
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Congestive Heart Failure

It’s when your heart doesn’t pump hard enough. Sudden weight gain -- 2-3 pounds in a day or more than 5 pounds a week -- could mean it’s getting worse. You also might have swollen feet and ankles, a faster pulse, heavy breathing, high blood pressure, memory loss, and confusion. You might want to track these symptoms so you can tell your doctor about abrupt changes. Together, you can adjust your treatment for better health.

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man snoring
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Sleep Apnea

If you’re a noisy snorer or feel drowsy during the day, it could be a sign you may have this serious condition. Your airway regularly cuts off breathing for a few seconds in your sleep. Being overweight or obese is one cause of sleep apnea, but it can also be a symptom. The condition could make you more likely to have liver problems, heart failure, and high blood pressure. Your doctor might suggest a CPAP breathing machine or other treatments.

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edema in foot
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Feeling a bit puffy? This condition happens when your body is holding too much water, usually in your arms and legs. A limb might look swollen and feel tight and hard to move. Edema itself is not usually a big deal. Diuretics, also called water pills, can help get rid of it if it doesn’t get better on its own. But you and your doctor should work to manage the underlying cause, like heart, kidney, liver, and lung diseases, which can be quite serious.

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man on scale
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Metabolic Syndrome

It’s a group of conditions that happens together and raises your chances of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and body fat may be at unhealthy levels. There might be no obvious symptoms except for extra pounds that add up around your waist. Your doctor can help you manage it with changes in diet and exercise as well as medicine and, in rare cases, weight loss surgery.

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blood sugar test
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Depending on the type, you can treat diabetes with a mix of diet, exercise, insulin, and medication. Insulin helps your body use energy. But it also makes it easier for your body to store the energy, which often can lead to weight gain. Plus, you may be tempted to eat more to prevent low blood sugar from some of the treatments. Talk to your doctor about how to best balance diet, exercise, insulin, and medication to manage your weight and your diabetes.

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Your doctor might call them corticosteroids. You can use them to treat asthma, some types of arthritis, and other conditions. The higher the dose and the longer you take steroids, the more likely they are to make you extra hungry! That could lead to overeating and weight gain. Talk to your doctor about how best to manage the side effects of your steroid treatment.

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woman looking at medication bottle
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Common Medications

One drug might make you hungry. Another might slow your body’s calorie burn or change the way your body absorbs nutrients. Some just make your body hang on to more water. Sometimes, scientists don’t know for sure why a drug causes weight gain. Common examples are birth control pills, antipsychotics, antidepressants, epilepsy drugs, and beta-blockers (for high blood pressure).

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/06/2020 Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on November 06, 2020


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American Heart Association: “Managing Heart Failure Symptoms.”

American Thyroid Association: “Hypothyroidism.”

Cleveland Clinic: “My Diabetes Is Controlled — But Why Am I Gaining Weight?” “Can Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Make You Gain Weight?”

Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine: “Sleep and Disease Risk.” “How Excess Weight Affects Your Health.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Metabolic Syndrome.”

Mayo Clinic: “Edema,” “Depression (major depressive disorder),” “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).”

National Health Service: “Nine medical reasons for putting on weight.”

National Sleep Foundation: “What is Sleep Apnea?” “How Losing Sleep Affects Your Body and Mind.”

NCBI Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care: “Causes and signs of edema.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Cushing's Syndrome.”

North American Menopause Society: “Midlife Weight Gain—Sound Familiar? You’re Not Alone.” “Your weight matters: obesity and sleep apnea.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “When Your Weight Gain Is Caused by Medicine.” “Menopause.”

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on November 06, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.