There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing you’re gaining weight when you’ve been working extra hard to lose it. And sometimes it’s not your fault at all. Unexplained weight gain could actually be a side effect of a number of underlying health conditions you might not even know you have.
Because an expanding waistline often isn’t the only downside to conditions like these, making an appointment with your doctor at your body’s first signals of distress can save you months, even years, of pain and frustration. A health professional may diagnose you with one or more of the following conditions, then get you started on treatment for any other symptoms you might be experiencing, and even help you manage your weight.
A sluggish thyroid will stall your metabolism. | iStock.com/Nerthuz
Your thyroid gland, and the hormone it produces, controls your metabolism. But according to Mayo Clinic, when your thyroid stops producing enough thyroid hormone, your metabolism can slow as a result. This condition, called hypothyroidism, often causes fatigue and weight gain. Since these symptoms are also common in conditions like depression, your doctor will check your hormone levels to diagnose or rule out thyroid issues when you present these or similar complaints.
Though there is no cure for hypothyroidism, your doctor can prescribe an oral medication to help supply your body with the right amount of thyroid hormone to get your metabolism back to normal.
Next: This one only affects women.
2. Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Lifestyle changes can help with PCOS. | iStock.com/Bogdanhoda
Like hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome is a health condition caused by a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms include irregular periods, an increase in male hormones, and ovarian cysts, and Mayo Clinic says women must have at least two of these symptoms to receive a PCOS diagnosis. Unfortunately, many women with PCOS gain weight — which makes their symptoms even worse.
If you’re experiencing irregular periods and unexplained weight gain, head to your doctor for a ruling out or diagnosis. They can recommend lifestyle changes or prescribe medications to help you manage your symptoms.
Next: Overeating is common with this condition.
3. Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Since certain foods can relieve heartburn, many people with this condition end up overeating. | iStock.com
WebMD says gastroesophageal reflux disease causes the muscle between the esophagus and stomach to relax, allowing the contents of the stomach to flow back into your esophagus (yikes!, often resulting in heartburn. While the condition itself isn’t what causes people to gain weight, common remedies to relieve symptoms often result in added pounds. According to Redbook, many people eat to temporarily reduce the painful consequences of GERD. Food and saliva can counteract the effects of stomach acid in your esophagus, even though it doesn’t last. Eating to temporarily relieve pain is pretty much guaranteed to make you gain weight.
Dietary and lifestyle changes, and sometimes certain medications, can improve GERD symptoms and discourage you from overeating to relieve your discomfort.
Next: This is one irritating condition.
4. Irritable bowel syndrome
IBS can also lead to weight loss, but most people overcompensate on days when they feel good. | iStock.com
If you constantly feel bloated or experience abdominal pain, or you’ve noticed a recent change in your bowel habits, you could have irritable bowel syndrome. According to Healthline, IBS is a GI disorder that doesn’t actually cause physical damage, but does often cause pain and discomfort. Symptoms often occur in flares, meaning on days you aren’t feeling well, you might eat less. On the days you’re experiencing less severe symptoms, though, you might eat more — which can cause weight gain.
Livestrong.com recommends high-fiber foods and exercise to relieve uncomfortable IBS symptoms. Avoiding red meat and caffeine are also common triggers, though every person is different. Managing your symptoms can help you avoid weight gain, and an appropriate diet and fitness routine can help you lose any weight you may have already gained.
Next: Pregnancy obviously leads to weight gain, but this accelerates it.
5. Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes can cause excess weight gain for pregnant women. | iStock.com/tamaravidmar
Most of us are familiar with diabetes, types 1 and 2. There is also a third type, called gestational diabetes. According to HealthCentral, non-diabetic women can develop gestational diabetes during their fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. During this time, your body produces enough insulin — but hormones made in the placenta block the effect it’s supposed to have on blood sugar. Though some women don’t experience symptoms, others notice weight gain, excessive hunger or thirst, and/or excessive urination.
The good news is, gestational diabetes typically disappears after the baby is born. If you’re about halfway through your pregnancy, and you’re gaining more weight than you should be, check in with your doctor to make sure you receive proper treatment to keep you and the baby as healthy as possible.
Next: This one might require surgery.
Benign tumors can cause weight gain. | iStock.com
Prolactinomas, according to Livestrong.com, are benign tumors that develop in your pituitary gland, the area of your brain that secretes a hormone called prolactin. Though they aren’t cancerous tumors, prolactinomas can still cause unwanted side effects. A tumor in your pituitary gland causes it to make more of the prolactin hormone, which might result in unwanted weight gain.
According to Mayo Clinic, prolactinoma treatment focuses on getting prolactin levels back to normal and relieving any signs of pressure on your eyes. In some cases, long-term medication is enough. Your doctor might also recommend surgery to remove the benign tumor, which also fixes the problem.
Next: Your emotional and physical health can both be compromised with this disorder.
7. Persistent depressive disorder
This depression disorder can cause a change in eating habits. | iStock.com
Persistent depressive disorder, a milder type of chronic depression, can wreck both your emotional and physical health. According to Healthline, PDD causes ongoing sadness and feelings of hopelessness. Those diagnosed often experience changes in sleep and appetite, making overeating and weight gain more probable. If you eat when you’re sad, and this happens on a daily basis, you might want to check in with your doctor and see if they can refer you to a mental health specialist.
A combination of medication and ongoing talk therapy can help you learn to cope with your feelings. Adopting healthier habits replaces the more destructive ones, and can simultaneously promote weight loss.
Next: Blame the aging process for this.
Menopause can cause weight gain. | iStock.com
Maintaining a healthy weight becomes more difficult as you age. Unfortunately, weight gain is much more common — and happens much faster — in women over 50. Mayo Clinic explains the hormonal changes women experience during menopause may cause many to put on extra pounds, particularly in the abdomen.
Thankfully, just because you’re going through menopause doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to struggle with your weight. Eating right, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are especially valuable for women who are at a greater risk of gaining weight unexpectedly.
Next: How you handle anxiety is key.
9. Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder can lead to overeating. | iStock.com/SIphotography
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Generalized anxiety disorder, however, goes beyond the occasional nervousness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, if you have GAD, you likely face constant tension and worry about everyone and everything, even if you know it’s irrational. This chronic stress can cause your body to produce more stress hormones. Heightened cortisol levels might encourage your body to hold onto fat. You could also experience more intense food cravings.
Both medication and talk therapy can help you manage GAD symptoms, especially if your first response to a stressful situation is to eat all the chocolate and doughnuts you can find.
Next: Hormonal changes make a huge difference.
10. Cushing’s syndrome
Though it’s not likely you have it, Cushing’s syndrome can lead to weight gain. | iStock.com
While many causes of unwanted weight gain aren’t serious enough to cause too much concern, Cushing’s syndrome is a bit more serious. Cushing’s is caused by unusually high cortisol levels, says Healthline. Depression, stress, and even certain medications can cause this elevation in the stress hormone. In addition to weight gain, Cushing’s may result in acne, high blood pressure, and muscle weakness.
Only about three in a million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Cushing’s every year, so your chances of being one of them are extremely rare. However, if the symptoms above seem familiar, have a medical professional look you over. Untreated Cushing’s can lead to health problems much more severe than weight gain.
Additional reporting by Lauren Weiler and Meg Dowell
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