When your illness and Medications Affect Your Weight

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Many individuals that are put on specific types of medications or are diagnosed with different types of illnesses may find that weight gain is one of the side effects noted. In fact, many of the types of medications used as antipsychotics or as antidepressants may trigger substantial weight gain. This weight gain can have a very negative impact on the individual and may increase the chance that the patient discontinues use of the medication.

Medications That Cause Weight Gain

 There are a variety of different types of medications that are directly linked to weight gain in patients. Not all patients taking these medications will experience weight gain and, for some of the medications, alternative options for treatment can be effective in controlling the health issues and minimizing the weight gain side- effect. Talking with your doctor to determine if there are alternative options for treatment is important.

Increased weight gain in patients poses additional health risks. The chance of developing Type ll diabetes increases as does the risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke. Joint and skeletal problems as well as digestive disorders can become more problematic with obese and overweight patients. Self-esteem and self-image is negatively impacted with weight gain in both men and women.

In recent studies researchers have found that genetic factors can contribute to the risk of weight gain and obesity for individuals prescribed antipsychotic medications. There are several different genes that have been linked to weight gain with the 5-hydroxytryptamin 2C and adrenergic α2a receptor genes seen as key indicators of weight gain while on these categories of medications. 1

 Weight gain in individuals with depression can be caused by several different factors. One is that people often stop eating when depressed and then eat more normally when medicated. This weight gain is healthy provided that they do not continue to eat more calories than needed to maintain a normal weight once a healthy weight range is achieved. Some individuals may over-eat prior to treatment and have sustained difficulty in controlling weight gain as a result of the antidepressant medication. It is important for mental health providers treating people who are depressed to monitor weight gain in patients and to consider switching the types of antidepressants to minimize the side effects of weight gain for a patient. 2

 Research does show that patients that have a good relationship with their treating physicians are more likely to discuss concerns with weight gain and follow recommendations for nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes that will minimize the weight gain potential while on the psychotropic medication. 3

 Emotional eating is often tied to a diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders. Eating compulsively or eating to gain comfort may be a symptom of a much deeper mental health issue that needs to be addressed. Seeking mental health support through a therapist, counselor or psychiatrist or psychologist can help in improving the issues that are causing the over eating issue.

Diseases That Cause Weight Gain

 There are several different diseases that can cause weight gain due to changes in hormonal levels, metabolic rates, food absorption or blood glucose regulation. One of the most common health conditions that can result in rapid weight changes including rapid weight gain is Type ll diabetes.4  It works the other way too. Diabetes can be brought on by increased weight, creating a vicious cycle. Type ll diabetes can often be controlled by a healthy diet that focuses on portion control, limiting highly refined foods and eating a specific food quantity over the entire day rather than in one or two large meals.

Another medical issue that can commonly cause weigth gain is hypothyroidism, or low thyroid. The thyroid hormones are very important in controlling your metabolism. If your levels are low, then it is very likely that you will gain weight. When the thyroid levels are corrected, your metabolism will return to normal and you should be able to lose the unwanted weight.

Other health conditions that can cause weight gain include any conditions that decrease circulation. Edema or water retention is common with circulatory problems and cardiovascular health issues. It is important to recognize that this type of weight gain is not due to adipose or fatty tissue but rather to fluids in the body. Often these fluids are found in the lower extremities and result in swollen feet, ankles and legs.

Health conditions including diseases of the liver and kidneys may be root causes of weight gain through retention of fluids in the body. Since it may be difficult to initially determine the type of weight gain, seeking immediate medical attention is essential. Occasionally dietary imbalances, particularly of trace minerals, can cause imbalances in various systems and organs in the body and may result in weight gain. This can also trigger hormonal imbalances which may lead to rapid weight gain or weight loss without any changes in food intake, lifestyle or exercise level. Since these imbalances can have very serious health consequences it is essential to have symptoms checked out by a physician as soon as possible.

Other health factors that may contribute to weight gain include smoking cessation, reproductive disorders in women as well as digestive disorders. Typically when weight gain occurs without any change in dietary intake or any decrease in physical activity it is highly recommended that a doctor’s appointment be scheduled as quickly as possible. The doctor will review any medications, complete a blood test and possibly require a hormonal level test as well to attempt to isolate the specific reason for the uncharacteristic weight gain.


1 Muller, D. J., & Kennedy, J. L. (2006). Genetics of antipsychotic treatment emergent weight gain in schizophrenia. Pharmacogenomics , 863-887.

2 Fava, M. (2000). Weight Gain and antidepressants. New Strategies for Improving the Treatment of Depression (pp. 37-41). San Francisco: Physicians Postgraduate Press.

3 Masand, P. S. (2000). Weight gain associated with psychotropic drugs. Informa Healthcare , 377-389.

4 Hertel, J. K., Johansson, S., Sonestedt, E., et al. (2011). FTO, Type 2 Diabetes, and Weight Gain Throughout Adult Life. Diabetes , 1637-1644.


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