When weight gain is a warning

If pounds are piling on and you've ruled out the usual suspects-a lapsed gym membership, a few too many backyard barbecues-a health problem may be to blame. Examining how much you've gained along with other symptoms may point to a medical culprit and help you feel better fast.


Sleep apnea: Other signs include snoring, headaches and fatigue. The link to mystery pounds? With apnea, breathing is interrupted while you snooze, possibly by throat tissue blocking your windpipe. Fitful sleep disrupts your hormones in a way that makes your body accumulate fat, says Gregg Faiman, M.D., an endocrinologist at University Hospitals of Cleveland. See your doc, who might prescribe a special sleep mask to keep your airway open.

Polycystic ovary syndrome
: This hormonal disorder occurs when the ovaries pump out too much testosterone, causing thinning hair, acne and irregular periods along with weight gain. PCOS is linked to too-high levels of the hormone insulin, and extra insulin encourages the body to build up and hoard fat. Exercise and a balanced diet can improve your ability to process insulin; hormonal birth control can help keep testosterone production in check.

Cushing's syndrome
: Acne, muscle weakness and facial hair are also telltale signs of Cushing's, a condition typically caused by a benign tumor on the adrenal gland. The tumor spurs cortisol production, which increases fat storage. "Pounds may add up quickly or slowly, but the key clue is continued gain without explanation," Dr. Faiman says. Having the tumor removed can ease symptoms and help get you back to your slimmer self.

Metabolic syndrome: If you're tired, bloated and craving carbs-whether or not you're PMSing-metabolic syndrome may be behind your weight creep. Like PCOS, it's linked to excess insulin. As the hormone builds up in your blood, it tells the body to build up and store more fat, which brings on weight gain, usually in your belly. Following a low-carb diet, exercising and taking an Rx (such as metformin) can help your body process insulin more effectively.

--Lee Cabot Walker


[photo credit: Getty Images]