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HEALTH ANSWERS

Do medications contribute to weight gain and obesity?

By Courtney Humphries Globe Correspondent 

Q. Do medications contribute to weight gain and obesity?

A. Several types of prescription medications have been linked to weight gain. One of the clearest examples is a class of drugs called atypical antipsychotics, which are widely used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychological conditions. Recent studies have found that children and adolescents in particular are at risk of gaining weight rapidly after starting these medications.

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Other drugs that can lead to weight gain include steroid hormones and certain treatments for depression, epilepsy, and hypertension, says Lawrence Cheskin, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. He adds that certain drugs that stimulate insulin production in diabetics also cause weight gain, which can work against a patient since weight gain is a risk factor for diabetes.

Given the complex factors that determine weight, “it’s very often hard to tell if it really is the medication causing weight gain,” says Cheskin. In many cases, doctors can try prescribing alternative drugs, so it’s worth talking with your doctor about any unexplained change in weight after starting a medication.

Do medications play a larger role in our expanding waistlines? A 2010 study found an association between higher weight and common antihistamine use, suggesting a potentially broader connection.

But lead author Cenk Tek, a psychiatrist at the Yale University School of Medicine, believes that “pharmaceutical induced weight gain is just a drop in the bucket” among the larger lifestyle factors contributing to obesity.