Our Doctor Explains When To Worry About Rapid Weight Gain

People who are dieting might follow their weight, body fat, or waist circumference carefully. They might follow a healthy meal plan and exercise in hopes of seeing some beneficial changes. But if you're not on a diet and begin to notice your clothes not fitting well, it might begin to signal that you're gaining some weight. Sure, your weight will fluctuate a few pounds daily, but a sustained weight gain over time could mean a change in your diet, lifestyle, or health.

If you take a look at your activities and eating patterns over the last few weeks, you might find the cause of your weight gain. Your workouts might have been cut short or cut out because of your increasingly busy schedule. Eating out a little more than usual or enjoying a new habit of dessert each night could also cause you to see consistently higher numbers on the scale (per Rush University Medical Center).

If you are experiencing rapid weight gain, however, it could be cause for concern. In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Scott Noorda, Longevity Physician at Resolve Medical, discussed some potential reasons for rapid weight gain and explained what you should do if you experience it.

Some causes for rapid weight gain

To understand the issue, it's first important to understand what constitutes rapid weight gain. "Rapid weight gain could be defined as gaining more than 5 pounds a month," Noorda explained. 

While there could be simple explanations for weight gain, which we'll discuss in a moment, Noorda says rapid weight gain could be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as a poorly functioning heart. The American Heart Association says gaining two or three pounds within a day or five pounds in a week might be a sign of retaining fluids. While your hydration levels will fluctuate day-to-day, weight gain combined with shortness of breath, swelling, or confusion could point to heart failure. If your heart isn't working the way it should, keeping track of these symptoms and notifying your healthcare provider can help manage your condition.

Kidney and liver issues can also be a potential cause. If your kidneys aren't filtering out waste from your body, you could see swelling in your legs or feet that could result in rapid weight gain, according to Medical News Today. Symptoms of kidney issues include muscle cramps, fatigue, and dry, itchy skin. Fluid buildup around your abdomen could mean cirrhosis of the liver, and cirrhosis is often accompanied by abdominal pain and difficulty breathing.

Noorda also pointed to sleep disorders as a common cause of rapid weight gain. Because sleep problems can disrupt the hormones that regulate your appetite and cause you to crave unhealthy foods, you could see some added pounds on the scale.

It's also important to consider whether you might have started a new medication that has weight gain as a side effect, according to Noorda. Antidepressants, corticosteroids, and medications for diabetes or high blood pressure could cause you to gain weight.

Additionally, trauma or lifestyle-induced stress might be contributing to your rapid weight gain, said Noorda. A 2014 article in JAMA Psychiatry found that experiencing PTSD symptoms is associated with a higher risk of being overweight or developing obesity.

Yet other causes for rapid weight gain to consider, per Noorda, include uncontrolled hypothyroidism, hormone imbalances like PCOS or menopause, depression, and insulin resistance.

Less serious causes of weight gain

Sometimes a little weight gain over a month or two is a matter of needing to boost your metabolism, according to Rush University Medical Center. While intermittent fasting is popular, larger meals in one sitting require more insulin to handle the increase in blood sugar. This could result in your body storing more fat. It might be better for your metabolism to eat smaller, healthy meals more frequently. If you've dropped your gym membership, it might be a good idea to get back into the gym for some weight training. Adding more muscle will help fire up your metabolism and shed those extra pounds.

Harvard Medical School says some weight changes might be due to aging. Although you might not notice a rapid weight gain, you might notice the clothes you wore several years ago might no longer fit. That's because people in middle age begin losing about 1% of their muscle mass every year and burn fewer calories. Men tend to lose testosterone as they age, which also plays a role in muscle loss. Lower levels of estrogen can contribute to more body fat and sleep problems in women.

Sometimes, however, you may need to look for other causes of your weight gain. "It's important to seek medical help if your best efforts to reverse weight gain with nutrition and lifestyle changes are not working or if you have no obvious cause," Noorda concluded.