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Health Information Tipping the Scales: Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain

From time to time you may notice fluctuations in your body weight. When you think about it, you can usually find an explanation — maybe you've been exercising less or eating more. These types of fluctuations are normal. The time to be concerned about weight loss or gain is when the cause isn't readily apparent. That's when you should see a physician.

"The good news/bad news is that most weight gain, especially as we get older, is usually not the result of medical problems, but the result of a slower metabolism, coupled with a decrease in physical activity," says Jennifer S. Earvolino, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Rush.

"Often, what we need to do for this type of weight gain is to trick the body's system into kick starting the metabolism, by increasing daily physical activity and by eating smaller amounts more frequently," she says. "When people go long periods of time between meals, and then eat a very large meal, a larger amount of insulin is released to take care of the meal, which in turn, promotes fat storage."

"Eating more frequently while making more healthful choices, such as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, can make a huge difference," says Earvolino. "Otherwise, even when we eat the same amount that we did in the past, we'll be burning fewer of those calories per day and gain weight over the years. And there's no way around it; you have to increase your physical activity as your age. Daily exercise not only burns calories, it also promotes the development of muscle mass. Muscle burns calories more effectively than fat, so the leaner you are, the more efficiently you burn calories."

Weight gain that comes with inactivity or age is common and usually occurs gradually, but some changes in weight can be more sudden and hard to account for. Some of the medical reasons for weight change include:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Fluid retention from either cardiac or kidney disease
  • Emotional stressors such as depression and anxiety
  • Taking certain medications
  • Cushing's syndrome (a rare hormonal disorder)

"If you have sudden weight gain or loss out of the blue — you can't pinpoint the cause — you should discuss it with you physician," says Earvolino. "There are a number of medical conditions that need to be ruled out."

Keeping a Watchful Eye
"Even with weight gain that can be explained, we need to make sure that there aren't other related problems that need to be addressed like elevated blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, diabetes, depression or anxiety," Earvolino says.

Remember: It's not so much about being thin as it is about being healthy. If you're concerned about your weight, work with your doctor to develop a healthy plan for reducing fat, building muscle and strengthening our cardiovascular system. Rush has a Nutrition and Wellness Center to help individuals achieve their fitness and health goals, including maintaining a healthy weight.

Jennifer S. Earvolino, MD, will be presenting more information on unexplained weight loss and gain, on Thursday, May 8, 2007, at 6:00 p.m. in Room 994 of the Armour Academic Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Phone 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874) for more information or to register. Or visit the Upcoming Events page. You can also use the registration request form to register online.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For information on spine and back care at Rush visit the Spine and Back Center home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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