Weight Management: Medical Conditions That Can Cause Weight Gain

Reviewed on 11/6/2020


An underactive thyroid gland may cause you to pack on the pounds.

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.


Depression increases the stress hormone cortisol which may lead to weight gain.

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.


Lack of sleep contributes to increased cortisol and weight gain.

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.


Lack of estrogen and changes in menopause may make women gain weight during this period.

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.

Cushing's Disease

Excess cortisol leads to the accumulation of fat in the abdomen and the base of the neck.

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.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Excess androgen may lead to polycystic ovarian syndrome and weight gain.

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.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure may lead to rapid weight gain.

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.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea increases the risk of liver problems, heart failure, high BP, and weight gain.

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.


Edema is a condition where you retain water weight.

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.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that often includes weight gain.

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.


Diabetes and insulin may lead to weight gain.

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.


Corticosteroids used to treat asthma, arthritis, and other conditions may provoke weight gain.

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.

Common Medications

Many medications have side effects which may include weight gain.

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).

Weight Management: Medical Conditions That Can Cause Weight Gain

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