Most people put on pounds as they get older, but if there's been a sudden change in your weight, you could have a hidden health problem. Medical conditions that can lead to obesity…


The thyroid gland regulates the body's metabolism. Hypothyroidism means that the gland is underactive, producing low levels of thyroid hormone. This causes the body to slow down and burn fewer calories, leading to weight gain.

Other symptoms: Fatigue...slow heart rate...dry skin...brittle hair...constipation...depression...reduced blood flow to arms and legs, which can make you feel cold all the time.

Approximately 7 million Americans have hypothyroidism. Most of these people gain a total of 10 to 20 pounds.

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed with two blood tests. One measures levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by the pituitary gland. The other measures levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine.

Treatment: The standard drug is the synthetic hormone levothyroxine (Levothroid, Synthroid). Taken daily for life, it restores the body's normal metabolism with virtually no side effects.

Cushing’s Syndrome

This rare syndrome is caused by excess levels of cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. People with this condition slowly gain a total of 10 to 25 pounds, usually in the upper body, face and neck.

Other symptoms: Elevated blood pressure...high blood sugar...purplish stretchmark-like patterns, or "stria," on the abdomen.

The most common cause of Cushing's syndrome is the long-term use of corticosteroids. These drugs are used to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease, and to prevent the rejection of a transplanted organ.

This condition also may be due to other causes, such as a benign tumor on the pituitary gland. In this case, it is called Cushing's disease, instead of syndrome.

Treatments: If the cause is corticosteroid use, your doctor may be able to treat the syndrome by reducing the dosage or discontinuing the drug. If the cause is a tumor, surgery usually is recommended.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can gain 50 pounds in two years. It is caused by excess production of androgens, male hormones that promote weight gain. PCOS also has been linked to insulin resistance, a decline in insulin's ability to transport glucose into cells.

Other symptoms: Irregular or absent periods... infertility.. acne... facial hair.

Up to 10% of women have PCOS. It usually begins in puberty but often goes undetected for decades because the symptoms are subtle. PCOS can be easily diagnosed by blood tests that measure hormone levels.

Treatment: Your doctor may prescribe one or more medications to manage the symptoms and risks of PCOS. He/she may prescribe metformin (Glucophage), which improves sensitivity to insulin. Taken daily for life, it reduces androgen levels, regulates the menstrual cycle and lowers risk of diabetes and heart disease.

For excessive hair growth, your doctor may add a drug such as spironolactone (Aldactone) which blocks the effects of androgens and lowers their production.

Prescription Drugs

Dozens of medications can cause weight gain as a side effect, including antipsychotics and antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all of your prescriptions. If one or more have weight gain as a side effect, ask if other drugs can provide the same benefits without adding pounds.

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