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Putting on weight: could this be the real reason? 

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Most people put on weight because they eat and drink more calories than they burn through everyday movement and body functions.

But in some cases, your weight gain may be due to an underlying health condition. Here are nine medical issues that can cause weight gain.

Underactive thyroid

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) means your thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormones, which play a central role in regulating your metabolism. Although an underactive thyroid can occur at any age and in either sex, it is most common in older women.

Diabetes treatment

Weight gain is a common side effect for people who take insulin to manage their diabetes. Insulin helps to control your blood sugar level. Some people with longstanding diabetes tend to eat more than they need to prevent low blood sugar, also known as a “hypo” or hypoglycaemia.

Ageing

People begin to lose modest amounts of muscle as they get older, largely because they become less active. Muscles are an efficient calorie burner, so a loss of muscle mass can mean you burn fewer calories. If you’re eating and drinking the same amount as you always have and are less physically active, this can lead to weight gain.

Steroid treatment

Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are used to treat a variety of conditions, including asthma and arthritis. Long-term use of corticosteroid tablets seems to increase appetite in some people, leading to weight gain.

Cushing’s syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is very rare, affecting around 1 in 50,000 people, and is caused by high levels of the hormone cortisol. It can develop as a side effect of long-term steroid treatment (iatogenic Cushing’s syndrome) or as a result of a tumour (endogenous Cushing’s syndrome).

Weight gain is a common symptom, particularly on the chest, face and stomach. It occurs because cortisol causes fat to be redistributed to these areas. Depending on the cause, treatment typically involves either reducing or withdrawing the use of steroids, or surgery to remove the tumour.

Stress and low mood

People respond differently to stress, anxiety and depressed mood. Some people may lose weight, while others may gain weight.

Tiredness

Some studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day are more likely to be overweight than those who get nine hours of sleep or more. It’s not clear why, but one theory is that sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin, the chemical that makes you feel full, and higher levels of ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone.

Fluid retention

Fluid retention (oedema) causes parts of the body to become swollen, which translates into weight gain. This gain is caused by fluid accumulating in the body. Some types of fluid retention are common – for example, if you’re standing for long periods or are pre-menstrual. The swelling can occur in one particular part of the body, such as the ankles, or it can be more general.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. Symptoms can include irregular periods, trouble getting pregnant, excess hair and weight gain. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it’s thought to be hormone-related, including too much insulin and testosterone.