What Causes Hormonal Weight Gain?

When you gain weight for no obvious reason, it may be linked to hormone fluctuations. These changes can occur with age, menopause, or a medical issue.

Changes in hormone levels can affect major body functions, including the way you gain and lose weight. While hormonal weight gain affects both sexes, the distribution of fat differs between women and men.

Treating hormonal weight gain involves finding and fixing the hormonal imbalance. You may also need treatment for the underlying medical issue causing a shift in your hormone levels.

This article explains the symptoms, causes, and medical ailments linked with hormonal weight gain. It also discusses ways to prevent and treat this problem.

A person standing on a scale after hormonal weight gain

Francesco Carta fotografo / Getty Images

Hormonal Weight Gain Symptoms

Since hormonal weight gain is linked to many types of imbalances, it can cause different symptoms. The symptoms you have depend on the hormone involved and whether you have too much or too little of it.

In addition to trouble losing weight, common symptoms of hormonal weight gain include:

Areas Affected by Hormonal Weight Gain

Hormonal weight gain areas and fat distribution differ between the sexes in these ways:

  • Men gain weight in the abdominal area.
  • Premenopausal women gain weight around the hips and thighs.
  • Postmenopausal women gain weight in the bell area, like men.

What Hormones Cause Weight Gain?

Several key hormones play a major role in controlling your appetite, feelings of fullness, metabolism, and body fat distribution. A change in their normal level or function can lead to excess weight gain.


Estrogen is the hormone that regulates a women's reproductive cycle. However, it also affects other body systems, including weight gain in both men and women.

Having too little or too much estrogen is not a direct cause-and-effect link to weight gain. Instead, an estrogen imbalance can hurt its ability to manage the following systems normally, which can lead to weight gain:


Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Its job is to help the cells in your body absorb glucose from your blood.

Cells use glucose for energy to support your organs and other systems. Insulin also works with your liver and muscles to store glucose as fat.

When your glucose levels fill your cells, liver, and muscles, the excess glucose is stored as body fat. This tells your pancreas to stop making insulin.

People with type 2 diabetes tend to develop insulin resistance. They can't make good use of the insulin they produce, so blood glucose levels increase. As a result, the body sends excess glucose to fat cells, and weight gain results.


Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells. It acts primarily on the brain, affecting the hypothalamus and brainstem.

Leptin helps control appetite and satiety, or a feeling of fullness. Its job is to alert the brain when energy stores in the liver and body fat decline.

While the level of leptin increases with the amount of body fat, there is evidence that some obese people may be resistant to leptin. Having leptin resistance or too little leptin can interfere with these benefits it provides:

  • Regulates food intake and body weight
  • Promotes an appetite suppressant
  • Controls energy expenditure


Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It controls the processes linked to your "fight or flight" response. It also helps regulate blood sugar, metabolism, sleep cycles, and inflammation.

When cortisol levels stay high due to a medical problem or chronic stress, your body remains set to fight or flight. Higher than normal cortisol levels are linked with abdominal obesity.

When it maintains high cortisol levels for a perceived threat, your body performs the following processes that can increase weight gain:

  • Increase in appetite to maintain calories
  • Cravings for carbohydrates or sugar for fast energy
  • The desire for binge eating
  • Difficulty maintaining a regular exercise regimen


Often called the "hunger hormone," ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. It controls hunger by working with the hypothalamus to control your appetite. It also tells the pituitary gland to release growth hormone, which destroys fat tissue and supports muscle growth.

Ghrelin levels typically rise before eating and during periods of fasting, when it promotes hunger. Levels decrease after a meal.

Obese people usually have lower ghrelin levels than thin people, but may be more sensitive to it. This suggests that the hormone may help with regulating weight, rather than weight gain. Having a sensitivity to ghrelin could also lead to overeating.

Conditions That May Cause Hormonal Weight Gain

The conditions that cause hormonal weight gain vary broadly. These issues often occur due to genetics, aging, or other uncontrollable conditions. Treating and managing these problems can help regulate hormonal imbalances and control weight gain.


Menopause describes the period in a woman's life she has gone without a period for 12 months. During this time, the production of estrogen decreases.

This hormonal shift triggers changes that make weight gain common during this time. The effects of low estrogen levels in menopause that contribute to weight gain include:

  • Decrease in lean body mass
  • Slower metabolic rate
  • Need for fewer calories to maintain a normal weight
  • Body fat redistribution, with more fat in the abdominal area
  • Sleep disruptions


Endometriosis is a chronic condition in which uterine tissue grows outside your uterus. Lesions or patches can grow on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, pelvic area, bladder, or bowel. They remain and bleed and swell during menstruation.

Endometriosis is highly estrogen-dependent. Treatment typically involves suppressing ovulation and menstruation to reduce ovarian estrogen production.

While there's no direct link between endometriosis and weight gain, having extra estrogen can lead to the following factors linked to weight gain:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Fluid retention
  • Increased appetite

Treatment with hormonal birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone can sometimes cause weight gain,

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder in which a woman's adrenal glands or ovaries make a higher than normal level of male hormones. The condition results in the production of cysts that grow on one or both ovaries.

Weight gain and obesity are more common among women with PCOS versus those without the condition. Much of this weight gain is associated with the hormonal abnormalities of the condition that can trigger insulin resistance, a known risk factor for obesity.


Hypothyroidism is a disorder that involves an underactive thyroid gland. The gland can't produce enough thyroid hormone to support normal functions. It controls body temperature, fatigue, forgetfulness, and depression.

Without enough thyroid hormone, you may have a modest amount of excess weight. However, there is some thought that the condition is secondary to obesity.

Researchers reported a decrease in lean body mass, not fat mass, for people treated for this problem. Controlling thyroid hormone levels caused a release of excess water. This implies that the weight gain in hypothyroidism may be caused by water retention.


People with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting productive sleep. It can occur as a temporary or long-term condition.

Causes of insomnia can include stress, irregular sleep habits, depression or other emotional disorders, inactive lifestyle, or travel across time zones. Symptoms of other conditions, such as night sweats in menopause, can also cause insomnia.

Research shows that people who don't get enough sleep are prone to weight gain. Sleep loss is linked to the following factors that can cause excess weight:

  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Lower levels of leptin
  • Higher levels of ghrelin
  • Higher levels of inflammatory markers
  • Salt retention

How to Lose Hormonal Weight Gain

Losing hormonal weight gain starts with finding the hormones affecting your weight. If you have an imbalance caused by an underlying medical issue, getting the right diagnosis and treatment will also be necessary.

Generally, any weight loss goal requires lifestyle changes that include the following strategies:

  • A change in diet to reduce calories
  • A daily program to maintain activity levels
  • Behavior strategies to encourage commitment
  • Adequate nightly sleep

Working with fitness professionals can help you find exercises for hormonal weight gain to target areas where you have excess weight.

Medications or hormonal weight gain supplements may also be advised. They can reset hormone levels, treat the effects of abnormal levels, or control underlying problems. Some common treatments include:

In extreme cases, treatment may involve surgical intervention to treat underlying problems. These therapies may include:


Hormonal weight gain occurs when the hormones that control weight gain and weight loss don't work. This can happen when your body resists a certain hormone. It can also occur when you have too much or too little of one.

Hormonal weight gain can be hard to lose until you correct the levels behind your problem. This can require medication to restore hormone levels, treatment of a medical issue, and/or surgery.

Once you manage the cause of hormonal weight gain, you can resume a weight loss plan. Having balanced hormones can help you succeed with a healthy diet and exercise.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with hormonal weight gain isn't easy. While affecting the way you look and feel, it can also damage your health. Carrying more than the normal amount of weight raises your risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

You can often get to the root of your weight problems with a blood test. Finding the right diagnosis is the first step in getting the treatment you need. If an unknown or unmanaged health issue is causing weight gain, testing can help you regain control of your health.

If you're dealing with weight gain that isn't linked to changes in your diet or activity levels, don't waste time with fad diets. Your healthcare team can help you find and treat the cause of your problem so that you can resume life at a normal weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does hormonal weight gain look like?

    Hormonal weight gain looks like any type of excess weight. Factors such as age, sex, body type, and cause of weight gain may make you gain weight differently. However, it's not possible to know that hormones are causing your weight gain by the way it looks.

  • How do I know if my weight gain is hormonal?

    Visiting your healthcare provider is the only way to know if your weight gain is hormonal. They can order diagnostic tests to find the source of your weight gain. A blood test can show some hormonal imbalances. An imaging study, like an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound can give details about a gland.

  • What areas does hormonal weight gain affect the most?

    Hormonal weight gain affects different areas in men and women. Men tend to gain excess weight in the abdominal area. However, premenopausal women add pounds around the hips and thighs. After menopause, women usually gain weight in the abdomen and develop a "menopausal belly."

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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.
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By Anna Giorgi
Anna Zernone Giorgi is a writer who specializes in health and lifestyle topics. Her experience includes over 25 years of writing on health and wellness-related subjects for consumers and medical professionals, in addition to holding positions in healthcare communications.