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Weight gain - unintentional

Definition

Unintentional weight gain is when you gain weight without trying to do so.

Considerations

A continued weight gain occurs with pregnancy, whereas a periodic weight gain may occur with menstruation. A rapid weight gain may be a sign of dangerous fluid retention.

Common Causes

Unintentional weight gain can be caused by many different things.

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

A medical problem or use of certain medication may also make you gain weight.

Medications that can cause weight gain include corticosteroids and drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.

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

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

Bloating, or swelling due to a buildup of fluid in the tissues can cause weight gain. This may occur with menstruation, heart or kidney failure, preeclampsia, or certain medications.

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

Take action by starting a proper diet and exercise program. Counseling may be helpful.

Set realistic weight goals to maintain a healthy weight. Consult with a health care provider about specific measures.

Call your health care provider if

Contact your health care provider if the following symptoms occur along with the weight gain:

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your health care provider will perform a physical examination, measure your height and weight to calculate your body mass index (BMI), and ask questions about your weight gain, such as:

  • Are you anxious, depressed, or under stress?
  • Did you gain the weight quickly or slowly?
  • Do you have a history of depression?
  • Do you use alcohol or street drugs?
    • Does the weight gain cause you much concern?
    • Has your participation in social activities decreased?
    • Has your physical activity been restricted due to illness or injury?
    • Have there been changes in your diet or appetite?
      • How much weight have you gained?
  • What medications do you take?
  • What other symptoms do you have?
  • When did the weight gain begin?

Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood tests including chemistry profile
  • Measurement of hormone levels
  • Nutritional assessment

Weight gain caused by emotional problems may require psychological counseling. Talk to your health care provider about an appropriate diet and exercise program and realistic weight loss goals. If weight gain is caused by a physical illness, treatment (if there is any) for the underlying cause will be prescribed.

If weight continues to be a problem despite diet and exercise, talk with your health care provider about other treatment options, including medications and surgery.

References

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


Review Date: 9/20/2011
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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