Could your weight gain signal a health problem?


Monday, September 24, 2018

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IT doesn't quite add up; you have lowered your calorie intake and increased the number of hours spent exercising inside and out of the gym yet you keep hitting higher digits on the scale. And if calorie amnesia is definitely not the case, then Dr Samantha Nicholson, medical internist at Imani Medical Centre, Papine Plaza, says that the culprit could be an underlying medical complication which is causing your metabolism to misfire.

“Weight gain, whether rapid or gradual, in the absence of an increase in your calorie consumption or a reduction in physical activities can be quite frustrating. As such, you might be tempted to rethink your weight loss or management strategy and that is fine, but you should also strongly consider going to the doctor and having this investigated,” Dr Nicholson advised.

She pointed out that obesity and/or sudden weight gain could be linked to a number of health conditions, some of which could also be triggering other symptoms that you have been overlooking. Below she shares some of the possible culprits.


Weight gain is often associated with numerous endocrine or hormonal diseases, for example hypothyroidism, which describes a condition wherein the thyroid — a gland located in the neck having responsibility for secreting the hormones which regulate metabolism — becomes underactive. This often leads to a reduction in the body's metabolic rate, which may lead to weight gain. The condition, which affects women in the majority, is often associated with other symptoms such as fatigue, constipation and hair loss.

Cushing syndrome

One of the most common symptoms of Cushing syndrome is the weight gain. The condition, often characterised by a build-up of fat in characteristic sites such as the face, upper back, and abdomen, occurs when the body is exposed to excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol produced by the adrenal gland or by way of steroids consumed for the treatment of asthma, arthritis or lupus.

Fluid retention

“Water retention, commonly referred to as edema, can give the appearance of weight gain as is associated with kidney failure and many other kidney diseases,” Dr Nicholson said. In this case, specific areas such as the limbs, hands, feet, face or abdomen are often very swollen.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

While most women with PCOS focus on period irregularity and heavy period flows, another major challenge of the hormone-based condition which specifically affects women in their childbearing years is weight gain. Dr Nicholson explains that what happens is that women with PCOS don't produce normal insulin levels. Not only do their bodies over-produce insulin in an effort to have a normal blood sugar level, but it also has difficulty pulling and converting glucose in the bloodstream to energy. This frequently leads to more androgen production and weight gain.


Weight gain is a common side effect for people who take insulin — a hormone that regulates the absorption of sugar (glucose) by cells. Many other diabetic drugs, according to Dr Nicholson, are also associated with weight gain, including pioglitazone, meglitinides and sulfonylureas.

Heart failure and cirrhosis

People suffering from congenital heart failure or cirrhosis of the liver often develop ascites, which is described as the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity. This usually occurs when the organs are on the verge of failing. Dr Nicholson pointed out that in these patients noticeable physical changes include rapid weight gain and a distended abdomen.

Some medications

There are some medications — both prescription and over the counter drugs — which contain compounds that are often linked to sudden weight gain and water retention. Some of the most common drugs include steroids, some antidepressants, high blood pressure drugs, and seizure medications.


Stress tends to push you into the arms of calorie-filled comfort food, a direct result of an overproduction of the hormone cortisol which increases the appetite.

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