If You Have Rapid Unexpected Weight Gain, This May Be Why

Do you keep gaining weight for no obvious reason? In this case, it might be time to see a health professional and get some blood work done. Contrary to popular belief, weight gain isn't always due to bad eating or lack of exercise. Sometimes, it's related to stress, sleep deprivation, or hormonal imbalances. For example, chronic stress affects appetite and insulin levels, which may lead to weight gain, explains WebMD. Another common cause is hypothyroidism, a condition that can interfere with your body's ability to use energy.

Also, note that it's normal to gain a few pounds as you get older. Metabolism decreases by about 30% by the time you reach your 50s, according to Piedmont Healthcare. Age-related muscle loss can further affect body composition and metabolism, resulting in weight gain. But even so, it's not normal to put on an extra 15 or 20 pounds overnight.

Weight gain is not necessarily an issue, but if it happens too quickly, it could indicate an underlying condition. In some cases, it might have something to do with the medications you take, notes Medical News Today. Either way, it's important to identify its cause and know when to seek help. Listed below are some potential causes of rapid weight gain, so you might want to check them out. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome, a common hormonal disorder, can cause rapid weight gain in women of reproductive age. This medical condition affects metabolism and endocrine function, leading to irregular menstrual periods, amenorrhea, excessive body hair, acne, and other problems. Researchers believe that PCOS may be due to insulin resistance or high androgen levels, notes the Office on Women's Health.

It's estimated that up to 10% of women of reproductive age have PCOS. This health condition is most likely to occur in those aged 15 to 44, regardless of age or ethnic background. If left unaddressed, it may contribute to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, depression, anxiety, or diabetes, warns the Office on Women's Health.

WebMD explains that PCOS affects the body's ability to use insulin, the hormone involved in glucose metabolism. At the same time, it increases the levels of male hormones and promotes fat storage in the abdominal area. Both insulin resistance and weight gain can put you at risk of disorders like diabetes and heart disease.

Ironically, many of the drugs prescribed for PCOS can result in weight gain, according to 2020 research published in the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences. Some medications have serious side effects ranging from birth defects and hair loss to insulin resistance. For example, corticosteroids may increase your appetite, making it harder to lose weight. Given these aspects, it's important to work closely with a doctor and develop healthy, sustainable eating habits instead of resorting to fad diets. 

Certain medications and supplements

As mentioned earlier, some of the medications prescribed for PCOS can cause weight gain, among other side effects. The same goes for certain antidepressants, beta-blockers, oral corticosteroids, and diabetes drugs. Propranolol and other medications that may help prevent migraines can have this side effect, too, says AARP.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for instance, are commonly prescribed for the treatment of depression. These drugs boost the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in appetite control. Serotonin inhibits hunger, but it may also increase insulin secretion and reduce fat burning, which can contribute to weight gain, suggests a 2019 study published in Endocrine Reviews. What's more, clinical evidence indicates that serotonin levels are higher in people with obesity compared to those of normal weight.

Other medications, including pain relievers, antihypertensives, chemotherapy drugs, and some antidepressants, can cause fluid retention, notes WebMD. For example, it's common to gain a few pounds after taking ibuprofen. Likewise, certain dietary supplements, especially those high in B-complex vitamins, can contribute to weight gain, according to 2014 research published in the World Journal of Diabetes. These side effects are more likely to occur at high doses, though. 

Water retention

Sometimes, rapid weight gain is due to fluid retention, which can result from hormone fluctuations, prolonged sitting or standing, excess sodium intake, or other factors, explains Healthline. For example, sitting for long periods can cause fluids to accumulate in your legs. In more severe cases, water retention is a symptom of kidney disease, infections, heart failure, or allergic reactions, says Medical News Today. Also, you are more likely to experience this issue before or during your period.

On the positive side, water weight gain isn't the same as packing on fat. Unless you have an underlying condition, you should be able to manage this problem through lifestyle changes. For starters, cut back on sodium and fill up on foods rich in potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6, suggests Healthline. Potassium and magnesium can bring your sodium levels within a healthy range, while vitamin B6 may help with premenstrual syndrome, a common cause of water retention.

You may also need to increase your fluid intake, recommends Women's Health. While it can be tempting to drink less water when you're feeling bloated, dehydration will only make things worse. Alternatively, reach for a cup of tea or cranberry juice. These beverages have a mild diuretic effect and can help your body flush out excess water.

Cushing's syndrome

Rapid weight gain may also indicate an underlying disease, such as Cushing's syndrome. This hormonal disorder is due to an excess of cortisol in the bloodstream, explains the Cleveland Clinic. Cortisol, the stress hormone, regulates blood pressure, inflammation, and energy metabolism. Even the slightest imbalance can affect your health. Cushing's syndrome is more common in people between the ages of 25 and 50, but it can affect anyone. About 70% of all cases are diagnosed in women.

Its symptoms may include rapid weight gain in the abdominal area, behind the neck, and around the chest, as well as muscle weaknesses, fatigue, and vision problems. This medical condition can also make your face look puffy and rounder than normal, according to the UK's National Health Service. Some people may experience weakness in their arms and legs, depression, irritability, low libido, and other symptoms.

This disease is more likely to occur in those who take steroid medications or have a tumor. If your symptoms are due to medication, you may find relief after your doctor tapers you off. Only stop your medication under the guidance of your doctor. On the other hand, tumors may require surgery, radiotherapy, or treatment with medication.

Ovarian cancer

Last but not least, you may be gaining weight rapidly if you have ovarian cancer. This life-threatening disease may cause swelling in the abdominal area, stomach pain, early satiety, and constipation, according to Medical News Today. You may also feel a frequent urge to urinate and experience irregular menstrual cycles.

Healthline explains that ovarian cancer may cause weight gain through several mechanisms. First of all, ovarian tumors tend to grow quickly and have nonspecific symptoms, making diagnosis difficult. Second, you may experience constipation, which can cause the numbers on the scale to go up. Fluid retention, a common symptom of ovarian cancer, can further increase your weight and make your belly look bigger.

All in all, it's best to see a doctor if you keep gaining weight despite eating healthy and staying active. You may not have ovarian cancer, but you could be dealing with hormonal imbalances, PCOS, thyroid disease, or a number of other conditions. Once you have identified the cause, you can take the steps needed to regain your health and get back in shape.