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Medical Reasons for Rapid Weight Gain

By Rebecca Bragg ; Updated July 18, 2017

Seasonal overindulgence, temporary hormonal imbalance or lapses in our exercise routines are all typical explanations for packing on a few extra pounds. However, rapid weight gain for no apparent reason, especially if accompanied by such symptoms as uncontrollable hunger, swollen feet, shortness of breath, oversensitivity to cold or hair loss, could signal a range of serious conditions and should always be referred to your health care provider.

Fluid Retention

The accumulation of excess fluid in the body, or edema, may be transient and harmless or a sign of problems such as congestive heart failure and kidney or liver disease. Common symptoms include puffiness in the face and swelling of the hands and lower extremities and are frequently experienced by pregnant or menstruating women and older people. The causes include sitting or standing in one position for too long, eating salty foods, allergies, high or low blood pressure and exposure to excessive heat or high altitudes.

Drug Side Effects

In an article in the May 2008 edition of "Pittsburgh Magazine," Madelyn Fernstrom, founder and director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, wrote that many commonly prescribed medications both stimulate hunger and lower the metabolic rate to invite weight gain. The culprits include some antidepressants, anti-psychotics, antihistamines, blood sugar regulators and anti-inflammatory medications. If you gain more than 4 lbs. in a month after starting to take any prescription drug, report it to your doctor.

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Endocrine Disorders

The endocrine system includes the adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands, which all produce hormones that regulate metabolic functions. In Cushing's syndrome, a disease caused by increased levels of cortisol, the excess may be manufactured by the body itself or induced by steroid hormones such as prednisone. Among the symptoms are upper body obesity, often combined with a rounded face and accumulations of fat in the neck area and between the shoulders.

Hypothyroidism is caused by inadequate production of thyroid hormones, which leads to sluggish metabolism and corresponding weight gain.

Nicotine and Alcohol Effects

Nicotine is both a stimulant and an appetite-suppressant, so when people quit smoking, their metabolism slows down and they feel like eating more. This, combined with the improved taste of food, often results in weight gain. Alcohol use can be another major contributor to weight gain as well as a wide range of other health problems, including heart and liver disease. According to McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois, one 12-oz. beer contains 140 calories, while a 5-oz. margarita has 550 calories. Over-consumption of alcohol also interferes with the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food, another risk factor for both weight gain and malnutrition.

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