Most people experience fluctuations with their weight and it is common to gain weight naturally as we age. For the most part, diet changes, eating more or reducing exercise are the main causes for gaining weight. However, if a person gains weight in a short period of time for no reason, this could be the sign of an undiagnosed, underlying health condition. There are several conditions and circumstances that are known to cause weight gain, some of which can be serious and require medical attention.
Here are just some medical conditions which can cause sudden weight gain:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
This is a hormonal condition which affects the way a woman’s ovaries work. A common symptom of PCOS is weight gain, particularly around one’s middle. Weight gain is rarely the sole symptom, it is usually part of multiple symptoms including acne, excessive hair, irregular periods and/ or thinning hair. PCOS makes women less sensitive to insulin or cause insulin-resistance which can lead to weight gain and secondary conditions such as diabetes.
A common cause of unexplained weight gain in men and women comes from having an underactive thyroid. This is because when a thyroid is underactive it doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, which in turn affects your metabolism, slowing it down. Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed with a thyroid function test and if diagnosed, it can be easily treated with a replacement hormonal tablets.
This is a rare hormonal disorder which is caused by elevated levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is responsible for regulating metabolism and appetite, which means elevated levels can slow down your metabolism as well as increase hunger, both of which can cause weight gain.
Insomnia / chronic lack of sleep
Being sleep deprived can result in making poor food choices, including seeking unhealthy foods and eating more than usual. This is thought to be because a lack of sleep disrupts the hormones in the brain (Leptin and Ghrelin) that are responsible for appetite.
Certain medications affect metabolism which can cause weight gain and weight loss. Medications such as steroid medication can cause weight gain, bloating and swelling due to water retention.
This is a problem caused by an issue with the lymphatic system that causes an abnormal build-up of fat in the legs and sometimes the arms. This usually results in the upper body being generally a much smaller size compared to the lower half of the body but typically affects both sides of the body equally. This condition can also be painful and cause tenderness or heaviness in the limbs. Lipoedema mainly affects women and it is rare in men.
Chronic stress, depression and/ or anxiety
Mental health issues can sometimes cause people to turn to food as a coping mechanism, often triggering compulsive eating behaviours. Additionally, higher cortisol levels are often found in people with depression which is known to increase appetite and the motivation to eat. Antidepressant medication can also increase hunger as they interfere with serotonin levels – a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite.
Women going through the menopause often experience weight gain. Changing hormone levels affect the way the body stores fat and can cause women’s bodies to store, rather than burn, calories. Women also generally need less calories after the menopause, and so, if you do not adjust your calorie intake, you are likely to put on weight.
During PMS (premenstrual syndrome), progesterone levels surge and dip which are known to increase appetite (the cause of which are unknown). PMS can also cause weight gain as a result of water retention.
While many of these causes are rare, they are possible and anyone experiencing unexplained weight gain should visit their GP to rule out anything that may require medical care or treatment. It’s always best to be on the safe side! And if everything is normal, your GP can provide you with tips and advice on how to manage your weight gain.
If you are experiencing unexplained or sudden weight gain, or think you might be displaying symptoms of the conditions mentioned above, please book a GP appointment today.