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Common Medications That Cause Weight Gain

writtenByWritten by: Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Read more posts by this author.
reviewBy Reviewed by: Linda Anegawa MD, FACP
Reviewer

Linda Anegawa MD, FACP

Dr. Anegawa graduated from the Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed residency at Stanford. She has over 20 years of practice experience and specializes in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine.

September 29, 2021 Read Time - 6 minutes

Medications That Cause Weight Gain

You may be eating a healthy diet and you may exercise regularly, but you may find that you have a hard time losing weight. The scale may even be going up for you, and you may constantly wonder what you are doing wrong. The answer to this very frustrating problem may actually lie in your medicine cabinet! There are quite a few prescription medications that can reinforce weight gain. And weight gain can be a known side effect of many types of commonly prescribed medications.

Medications that cause weight gain do so by either stimulating your appetite, affecting your metabolism by slowing down how fast calories are burned, as well as affecting how your body stores water and other nutrients.  As many as 10-15% of all weight gain issues are felt to be related to medication use.

Medications that stimulate your appetite are hard to overcome because you rarely feel full and satisfied; it can be difficult to monitor portions when you always feel hungry. Overeating paired with the slowing down of your metabolism is an especially bad side effect combination as this can lead to rapid weight gain. 

Some medicines might cause you to retain water. This makes you weigh more even if you don’t put on extra fat. Water weight can also be difficult to overcome without adjusting medications. The stress and frustration from water weight gain can then in turn lead to the body producing stress hormones such as cortisol, leading to further gain. It becomes a vicious cycle in the body.

Other medicines might affect how your body stores and absorbs sugars and other nutrients which also can affect weight.

Typical classes of medications that are known to have weight gain as a side effect include medications for psychiatric disorders, hypertension, diabetes, and epilepsy. The likelihood of weight gain varies for each medication, but in general weight gain can account for 1-10% of side effects.

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Prescription Medications and Weight Gain

Weight gain from medication use depends on a number of factors, including your medical history, type of medication prescribed and how long you need to take it for, your age, and sleep patterns. Some people may gain a few pounds over the years, while others gain more aggressively like 10-20 lbs. in a few months.  

The effects of medications are not the same for everyone, as well; some may gain relatively small amounts, others much more. It is important to understand that while the medication may be a contributing factor, it is not the only factor, and a comprehensive evaluation of your weight is often necessary to treat it effectively.

If your doctor feels your medication could be interfering with your weight, your doctor can discuss switching you to another medication that can help your condition but reduce the possibility of weight gain. Because it is difficult to know how your body will react to different prescription medications, working closely with your doctor on medication or dose adjustments is vital.

Which Medications Cause the Most Weight Gain? 

Some prescription medications can cause weight gain more dramatically than others. Steroids and some psychiatric medications are among these types of medications. These can cause weight gain either quickly over a few months, or slow gain over years.

Other medicines that may cause weight gain include:

  • Medicines for diabetes, such as insulin, thiazolidinediones, and sulfonylureas
  • Antipsychotic medicines such as haloperidol, clozapine, risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, and lithium
  • Antidepressant medicines like amitriptyline, imipramine, paroxetine, citalopram, mirtazapine, and sertraline
  • Epilepsy medicines like valproate, divalproex, carbamazepine, and gabapentin
  • Steroid hormone medicines like prednisone or methylprednisolone
  • Some types of birth control, including pills or the Depo shot
  • Blood pressure-reducing medicines, especially beta-blockers such as propranolol and metoprolol

Symptoms of Gaining Weight on Medication

You may not notice weight gain on medication initially, if it is gradual. Your doctor may be the first to notice, as typically doctors will keep track of your weight over the years. Symptoms of gaining weight on medication may be subtle, too. You may initially just notice increased appetite, not feeling satiated, difficulty exercising due to shortness of breath or getting tired easily, fatigue, or sleeping more than usual. 

Not all weight gain is caused by taking medicine. But if you started to gain weight after beginning a new medication, the medication may be partly to blame. 

How Can I Avoid Gaining Weight on Medication? 

Knowing which medications cause weight gain as a side effect is very important, so if you have weight concerns, be sure to discuss this with your doctor. This way you can be more mindful of what you eat and can stay consistent with exercise – this can help offset any weight-gaining effect of a medication. 

Sometimes reducing the dose can help you lose weight, but medication adjustment should be guided by a medical doctor.  Never stop taking medicine without talking with your doctor first, as stopping medications abruptly can have serious consequences. 

Treatment for Medications that Cause Weight Gain

If you notice weight gain from taking certain medications, you can ask your doctor if an alternative medication is available that does not have weight gain as a side effect.

If you need to take prescription medications that cause weight gain or cannot switch to an alternative, instituting preemptive weight gain prevention strategies with your doctor can be very helpful. Your doctor may even suggest prescribing a weight loss medication, if you meet the criteria. 

At PlushCare, doctors can help you with your preventative strategy or help you manage prescription medications. 

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Online Weight Management 

Every medication comes with risks, benefits, and side effects.  Only you and your doctor can decide together whether the benefits of continuing any medicine outweigh any side effects, including weight gain. If you are concerned that a medicine is causing you to gain weight, make an appointment to talk with a PlushCare physician today. 


Read More About Weight Management


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. (2015). Drugs commonly associated with weight change: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Accessed on September 12, 2021 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5393509/ 

National Library of Medicine. (2005). Drug-induced weight gain. Accessed on September 12, 2021 at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16234878/ 

Obesity Medicine Association. 2021 Obesity Medicine Algorithm. Accessed on September 20, 2021 at https://obesitymedicine.org/obesity-algorithm/

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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