Which Medications Effect Weight Gain?

Common Medications Can Lead to Weight Gain and Inhibit Weight Loss

In addition to poor diet and lack of exercise, other culprits can contribute to obesity, and medication is one of them. Some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States — for common conditions like diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, depression, and bipolar disorder — have been found to cause weight gain.

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Medications That Can Contribute to Weight Gain

Medication can add pounds in several ways:

  • Metabolism changes: Some drugs change the body's metabolism, and calories are burned more slowly.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are known to stimulate appetite while reducing the body's ability to absorb glucose, which can promote fat deposits in the midsection.
  • Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers can cause shortness of breath and fatigue, making it difficult to exercise.
  • Calcium channel blockers: Calcium channel blockers taken for high blood pressure can cause users to retain water.
  • Antipsychotic medications: Drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions and mood disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder, are among those that can cause weight gain. It is common with drugs like Paxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Clozaril (clozapine), Seroquel (quetiapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine) and Risperdal (risperidone).

As a result, the FDA has, since 2004, required manufacturers of certain antipsychotic medications to add a warning statement to healthcare providers prescribing these drugs. The warning outlines the increased risk of diabetes and hyperglycemia that can result from their use.

Side Effects of Weight Gain from Medications

The amount of weight gained varies for each person and each drug. Some people may gain a few pounds over the course of a year; others experience weight gains in excess of 100 pounds in a matter of months. Because many of these drugs are taken for chronic conditions, their use over a period of several years can contribute to substantial weight gain.

In addition to the emotional and social dimension of weight gain, serious health conditions — diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol — can result from or worsen due to added weight.

Perhaps the most serious consequence of drug-induced weight gain is that many patients stop taking their medication or decide on their own to switch to a lower dosage. As a result, potentially serious underlying health conditions may go untreated. Lack of adherence to a drug regimen because of weight gain has been cited as a particular problem with antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs.

Some healthcare providers proactively tell their patients about the potential for weight gain when prescribing certain drugs and advise the patients to moderate their diet and increase their aerobic exercise to offset any weight increases.

Finding Alternative Medications

All patients, regardless of condition, should talk to their healthcare provider before stopping medication or changing doses.

In many cases, your healthcare provider may be able to recommend a drug that works just as well without the added pounds. Or, your practitioner may decide to prescribe an additional drug to treat any weight gain you might experience.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Domecq JP, Prutsky G, Leppin A, et al. Drugs commonly associated with weight change: a systematic review and meta-analysisThe Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2015;100(2):363-370. doi:10.1210/jc.2014-3421

  2. Hennings JM, Heel S, Lechner K, et al. Effect of mirtazapine on metabolism and energy substrate partitioning in healthy men [published online ahead of print, 2019 Jan 10]JCI Insight. 2019;4(1):e123786. doi:10.1172/jci.insight.123786

  3. Shrivastava A, Johnston M. Weight-gain in psychiatric treatment: risks, implications, and strategies for prevention and managementMens Sana Monogr. 2010;8(1):53. doi:10.4103/0973-1229.58819

  4. Dayabandara M, Hanwella R, Ratnatunga S, Seneviratne S, Suraweera C, de Silva VA. Antipsychotic-associated weight gain: management strategies and impact on treatment adherenceNeuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2017;13:2231-2241. doi:10.2147/NDT.S113099

  5. Riordan HJ, Antonini P, Murphy MF. Atypical antipsychotics and metabolic syndrome in patients with schizophrenia: risk factors, monitoring, and healthcare implicationsAm Health Drug Benefits. 2011;4(5):292-302.

  6. University of Rochester Medical Center. When your weight gain is caused by medicine.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health effects of overweight and obesity.

  8. Keks N, Schwartz D, Hope J. Stopping and switching antipsychotic drugsAust Prescr. 2019;42(5):152-157. doi:10.18773/austprescr.2019.052

  9. Semahegn A, et al. Psychotropic medication non-adherence and its associated factors among patients with major psychiatric disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysisSystematic Reviews. 2020;9(17). doi:10.1186/s13643-020-1274-3

Additional Reading
  • "2004 Safety Alert: Zyprexa (Olanzapine)." FDA.gov. 22 Mar. 2004. Food and Drug Administration. <http://www.fda.gov/medWatch/SAFETY/2004/zyprexa.htm>.

    Deshmukh, Rashmi and Kathleen Franco. "Managing Weight Gain as a Side Effect of Antidepressant Therapy." Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 70:7 (2003): 614-23. 27 Feb. 2009 <http://www.ccjm.org/content/70/7/614.full.pdf+html>.

    Fenton, Wayne S. and Mark R. Chavez. "Medication-Induced Weight Gain and Dyslipidemia in Patients With Schizophrenia." American Journal of Psychiatry 163 (2006): 1697-704. 27 Feb. 2009 <http://focus.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/reprint/6/2/246>.

    "Prescription Drugs That Cause Weight Gain." Johns Hopkins Health Alert. Jun. 2008. Johns Hopkins Medicine. <http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/prescription_drugs/JohnsHopkinsPrescriptionsDrugsHealthAlert_656-1.html>.

    Simpson, MM, et al. "Weight Gain and Antipsychotic Medication: Differences Between Antipsychotic-Free and Treatment Periods." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 62:9 (2001): 694-700. 27 Feb. 2009 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11681765>.

By Marc Lallanilla
Marc Lallanilla is a sustainable living and green design expert. As a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, he also covers science, health, and environmental topics.