How to deal with drug-related weight gain


2.5 minutes

For many of us, medications are a fact of life. You may need to take antibiotics for strep throat, ibuprofen for a splitting headache, or other drugs for conditions, disorders, and diseases like diabetes, arthritis, or depression. But sometimes, the meds you take can cause weight gain that (argh!) comes out of the blue. It can make you feel defeated—like you don’t have any options. 
We’re here to help you through it! Let’s back up and start from the beginning, though.
Why do some medications cause weight gain?
It can vary from person to person, and by the medication you’re on. Sometimes it’s not the drug that makes you gain weight—but the weight gain is a result of its side effects like an increased appetite, a slower metabolism, or fatigue (making it harder to stay physically active). 
For example, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers may cause weight gain. In fact, one review of studies on these types of drugs found that around 70% of patients experienced some weight gain. And antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can affect chemicals in the brain that help control appetite. This can cause a bump in food cravings, especially when you first start taking these medications. 
Other medications that could lead to weight gain: Certain HIV medications have been shown to increase lipodystrophy, a condition that causes a buildup of body fat in the abdomen. And corticosteroids, typically prescribed for conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can affect metabolism, appetite, and how the body deposits fat. 
That’s the not-so-great news. Now let’s get to the part about what you can do about it.
How to deal with medication-related weight gain
First, talk to your doctor.
Don’t stop taking your current prescription. But do let your doctor know if you think your medication is causing weight issues—and ask if there are other options. Remember: You are your best health advocate!
Do your research.
Your doctor or pharmacist will typically tell you about any side effects of a medication. Still, it’s worth doing some research—as in, reading up on studies in medical journals that have been scientifically reviewed versus a random Google search. You’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the medication you’re taking and your disease or illness.
Be mindful.
If you notice that your weight suddenly changes after beginning a new medication, make a note of it, so you remember exactly when it started happening. Take into account anything else that might have changed during this time. This will give you more information to share with your doctor and help you pinpoint the cause.
Track your food and physical activity.
Here’s why: Jotting down what you eat and your activity—or using the Found app to track these things—can help you and your doctor figure out whether your weight gain is due to a change in your daily habits or your medication.
What we’re saying is: With the help of your healthcare provider, you can figure out what’s going on and continue your weight care journey. Onward! Take some time to log your meals, movement, and other dailies in the app to track your progress. It gives you time to reflect, and science shows it supports your success. 
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Gafoor, R., Booth, H. P., & Gulliford, M. C. (2018). Antidepressant utilisation and incidence of weight gain during 10 years' follow-up: population based cohort study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 361, k1951.
National Institute of Health. (2022). HIV and Lipodystrophy. HIV Info.
Savas, M., Wester, V. L., Staufenbiel, S. M., Koper, J. W., van den Akker, E., Visser, J. A., van der Lely, A. J., Penninx, B., & van Rossum, E. (2017). Systematic Evaluation of Corticosteroid Use in Obese and Non-obese Individuals: A Multi-cohort Study. International journal of medical sciences, 14(7), 615–621.
Shi, Z., Atlantis, E., Taylor, A. W., Gill, T. K., Price, K., Appleton, S., Wong, M. L., & Licinio, J. (2017). SSRI antidepressant use potentiates weight gain in the context of unhealthy lifestyles: results from a 4-year Australian follow-up study. BMJ open, 7(8), e016224.
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