Is a sudden weight gain something to worry about?

Q: I’m a 47 year-old female and have maintained a steady weight for many years. But I gained about 15 pounds in the last couple of months. Is it caused by my proximity to Izzy’s Ice Cream or something else?

It’s normal for a person’s weight to increase and decrease slightly week to week. But 15 pounds in two months sounds like more than a normal fluctuation for a typical female. First, and obviously, do an honest assessment of any changes in your eating, drinking and activity levels. For example, have you stopped walking to work and now drive? Have you started regularly buying sweetened coffee drinks? Have you added in a regular “happy hour” after work? Have you stopped working out due to an injury?

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Most often, weight gain occurs slowly over time and is a result of lifestyle choices. Modern conveniences, like fast food and certain technologies have made it easy to adopt bad habits. These habits can lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, cancer and other diseases.

Possible causes

If you have not made any major changes in your diet and exercise, schedule a visit with your primary care provider. If your weight spiked for no apparent reason, an underlying disease could have caused it. Conditions including kidney disease, depression, heart disease and even menopause can change the body’s metabolism and hormones, prompting weight issues.

Because various factors impact a person’s weight, we will assess your physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental health.

One common condition that causes weight gain is hypothyroidism. It’s much more common in females than males, and the likelihood of getting hypothyroidism increases with age. In the United States, approximately 10 percent of adults older than 65 years old have hypothyroidism.

It’s caused when the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough thyroid hormone. This hormone controls the body’s use of energy, so when a person does not have enough hormone, her metabolism slows down. A slowed metabolism can cause weight gain, fatigue, constipation, thinning hair, dry skin and feeling cold. In women, hypothyroidism may disrupt monthly cycles and make it hard to get pregnant.

Michelle Napral
Michelle Napral

When to seek care

To diagnose hypothyroidism, a simple blood test can be performed to detect the condition. Treatment is available and involves taking a thyroid hormone pill daily to regulate the body’s metabolism to a normal level. When treated and managed effectively, hypothyroidism does not impact one’s overall health.

If you’re gaining significant weight and you cannot attribute it to a lifestyle change, it’s important to see your provider to determine the cause.

Michelle Napral is a nurse practitioner at the University of Minnesota Health Nurse Practitioners Clinic, 3rd Street & Chicago. Send questions to nursnews@umn.edu.