How I Cope When Pain Relief Leads to Weight Gain

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I've learned how to deal with my food cravings and urge to binge, but what happens when an outside force (in my case, a medication), influences your weight-loss efforts? Do you give up? Or keep fighting? Here's my story:

I’ve recently been on the medicine prednisone for a pinched nerve in my back and have suffered the usual side effects of ravenous hunger, weight gain, and high blood sugar. Prednisone is in a class of drugs called steroids. Steroids take down inflammation and keep autoimmune responses to minimum. For someone with an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, a steroid can make all the difference in mobility. In some cases, such as a severe allergic reaction, it can save a life by reducing the body’s inflammatory response to an allergen. In my case, suffering from a severely pinched nerve, it reduced the amount of swelling in my joints to allow my nerve a chance to become unpinched.

I’ve been on the medication before, so I knew what to expect. As soon as I knew I was going to be taking prednisone, I went shopping to prepare for battle. This was a crucial step in getting myself ready to not give in to all of those crazy cravings and the ravenous hunger that usually ensue when I take steroids. I stocked up on foods full of fiber and protein, such as whole grain cereals and crackers (my personal favorites are Kashi brand), lean meats, canned and dry beans, brown rice, whole grain bread, vegetables and fruit, nut butters, unbuttered popcorn, organic skim milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheeses, and other healthy foods that I can grab and eat in a pinch. I made it easy to fix my snacks, because I knew I wouldn’t want to wait. By not having snack foods in the house, I would have to make a specific trip out to get them and odds are I wouldn’t feel like doing that.

This was a great time to amp up my exercise, especially because I am diabetic. My doctor warned me that blood sugar tends to run high on prednisone and mood swings run rampant. I could help myself control both by adding in some daily movement. Exercise lowers blood sugar, not just while you’re doing it, but for hours afterward. Exercise also produces feel good chemicals in the brain to help with moods. This didn’t mean that I had to sign up for a 5K, although that’s a noble goal, I just needed to do any movement more than I was doing and build up. This extra exercise would also burn more calories and help offset any weight gain that would almost certainly occur.

It is very important for me to keep a positive attitude, although difficult when on prednisone. I had to nurture myself and keep things in perspective by doing something I enjoyed each day. I also had to remember that everything looks a little greyer through the eyes of prednisone and try to avoid negative thinking and “don’ts,” and reframe them as “dos.” When I’ve really struggled with mood issues, I’ve talked to my doctor and have never let my negative mood/depression get the best of me.

Drinking water and staying properly hydrated helped, as well. I felt bloated, and my body held on to water weight. Drinking extra water can actually help with this problem. Sometimes when the body doesn’t get enough water, it will hold on to the water it does have and store it. Once our bodies know that sufficient fluids will be available, they start letting go of the water. Leaving out table salt and watching sodium intake helps me too.

Since late October’s bout with prednisone, I’ve struggled. I gained 19 pounds. I’ve struggled with my blood sugars being really high and have been depressed and frustrated. It has taken me nearly a month of being off of prednisone to get my blood sugar back into the normal ranges with increased insulin. My weight is finally going down again and I’m at only an 8 pound gain. The mood swings are finally calming down and my bloating and swelling is minimal now. A battle with prednisone or any steroid is not one to take lightly, but hold your ground and you will win. Don’t give up the good fight.

Has medicine ever caused you to gain weight?

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This rings SO true for me! I have been on PCOS (Poly cystic ovarian syndrome) medication- basically hormonal pills- since the last 8-9 years. This is the main reason why I gained weight in the first place and now have a hard time losing weight and maintaining the weight loss despite eating healthy and exercising regularly. I feel like any other person my age, not on these meds, would easily lose the weight I have a hard time losing if they followed the same routine as I do. Its such a struggle and so frustrating...but I havent given up as yet! Report
Like several have commented, I've been on prednisone with NO warnings of the side effects. I was also on antidepressants at the same time with NO warnings of the side effects. So...if you put the two together, you get major weight gain.

I took myself off the antidepressants, and I refuse to take the steroid again. If I get a major allergic reaction, I go to the hospital and consent to a cortisone shot, but that's as much as I will allow.

When I spoke to a doctor about all the weight I gained, she (note I said "she") was very sympathetic and told me it these drugs actually have a residual effect and it takes quite some time to "purge" your body after you've finished with them.

I wish doctors had better options when dealing with medical problems than to just scribble out a prescription for a potentially noxious substance. Report
As an Insulin dependent Type II diabetic, I had a major problem with weight gain - 10 pounds in a month. At my first check-up with my new Endocrinologist, he told me that Insulin had many of the characteristics of a steroid, including reducing swelling around nerve endings. That reduced swelling helped keep diabetic nueropathy in check. He told me that in consultations with my cardiac specialist, they would rather I was 10-15 pounds overweight then have complications from nueropathy. With a heart condition (3 heart attacks and only a 35% pumping capacity), 2 broken vertebrae and three disintegrating discs, I can't keep ahead of creeping weight gain in the winter. When I open my pool in the summer I can get ahead and actually lose weight, which has totally surprised my Endo. I've been battling this for 10 years, but have gone from a high of 206 down to a high of 195. This summers goal is to get down into the 180's. Talk about turtle slow, my weight loss is more in the neighborhood of a snail - but keeping at it is in my best interest, so Spark is the place for me. Report
Great blog! I struggle with losing weight because of various medications I have to take. I know it's not impossible if I eat properly, drink water, and exercise but I sometimes think a .2 or .4 loss a week is never going to get me to my goal. Report
There are so many drugs that can cause you to gain weight or merely just slow you down from losing weight. Many of them are anti seizure drugs, depression drugs, steroids and most people use these drugs as excuses. As PAMIEKAE says if you stay the course it passes and you can continue to lose or maintain. Been there done that too!
This is exactly my problem. I've been on prednisone since October of 2006. I have been taking it for multiple reasons. I'm Asthmatic/COPD and have bilateral neuropathy of my lower back and legs. They have tried to take me off it it, as well as several other steroids that I'm on for my lungs. But within a month I'm going back on them because the conditions take a major turn for the worse. It did cause me to become diabetic and now take metformin which helps stop some of the weight gain and helps me lose some weight. But not enough. I use to be at 110 lbs and now weight 201. This article helps me know that there is a way to end the gaining of weight caused by the prednisone! Report
Thanks so much for this! It's good to know how to be prepared! Report
Thanks for your info. It may have something to do with our metabolisms. My Mom took it for bad back and sinuses for 4 weeks and had 3 steroid epidural injections around the same time. She fully lost her appetitie and lost 35 lbs in a month and a half.
For the last 5 months I have been losing the ability to walk. I have been given a steroid pack , followed by an epidural shot. I, too, had no appetite and kept off my weight. I think we are the rarities. I only wish right now that I could exercise, since now I am stuggling to keep the calories down to keep the weight down. I am up 2 lbs now after NO exercise for 5 months. I haven't even found chair exercises that don't harm my low back. Enough of me.

I like that you seem to be diligent at exercising and choosing the right foods.You have done great with a drug that usually DOES produce hunger and weightgain. I hope the nerve does indeed completely lose its inflamation and your attitude can not harm in any way.WTG! Report
I felt relieved to read that I was not the only one who had lost my battle during my encounter with prednisone. I joined Spark in January. I lost 6 pounds and was very happy with my progress. However I had to take prednisone for about 4 weeks for chronic sinus infections. (Gross!!) I completely lost control of my eating. My face is still swollen!! However the infection has gone. I am trying to get back on the eating and exercise track. I did not prepare by having good foods in the house. Next time I will know what to expect and prepare accordingly! Report
I am so glad I saw this article! After I got married my gyno put me on amitryptalin for chronic pain management (not for depression) the meds made me depressed and ravenously hungry. I didn't realize how depressed I was until I realized that I hadn't left the house in weeks except when my husband made me, a very unusual thing for someone who would normally be happy to go out every night of the week. I went from 170 on our wedding day to weighing 230. I felt so overwhelmed for months that I didn't even know where to begin. After adopting our Beagle Katy, I have been losing inches and pounds little by little. I am not down to 206, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I feel better about my body every day. Whenever I get discouraged I make myself go take a walk instead of just feeling sorry for myself.
Thanks for posting this! It's good to know I'm not the only one fighting this battle! Report
I watched my grandfather pack on a lot of weight when he was put on a new medication. The medication made him ravenous. He'd wake up late at night and eat a huge bowl of cereal. As a result of all those extra calories, he started packing on weight start. So, the doctor changed his med and his weight began to return to normal.

Also, several of my friends who changed birth control saw a gain in their weight as a result of water retention. Report
Ive been on the predisone it also packed on the pounds but provided no relief, i have a herniated disc pinching my sciatic nerve, I do very little exercise, have also tried to cut back on my eating, unfortunately the scale does not go down but doesnt go up either luckily, Good luck Hopefully you will be better soon Report
OMG!!! You wrote about my life!!! Fifteen years ago I was diagnosed with Crohn's and RA. I went on Prednisone 60mgs a day. Was on that dose for several months. All total, I was on it a year. Worst year of my life. I wanted to die I felt so bad from the weight gain, the mood swings, no sleep, etc. When I finally got off I was 160 lbs. I had never weighted that much in my life. Not even pregnant! I tried to lose it but just couldn't as menopause kicked in about the time I went off the meds!!! OH JOY!!! Almost 4 years ago, I found SP and am now down to 133. Still over my goal weight but getting there. I didn't have a positive attitude about the whole thing either. I have told my DR that I will never take that drug again. I know that it can work miracles but it is just not for me. Good luck to you!!! Report
You make me feel so great. I am going for the shot in my back on Wednesday. I almost feel the pain is better than the weight gain. Report
Wow I'm on it for a chest injury and they gave me no warnings what so ever. Glad it's only for 10 days (3 left) and I've only gained 3 pounds. I would have like to have been told what would happen in regards to the weight and cravings but it certainly explains my desire for excessive amounts of sweet tea over water. Report
A few years back I had to go on a steroid I was told it would make me gain weight oh goody just what I need, went back after 2 weeks on the steroid and I had lost 6 pounds the nurse said that just never happens to this day no one knows why I lost that amount, and no I did not change my diet. Report
My weight problem started approximately 22 years ago when I when put on Prednisone for a medical problem. My doctor had told me at the time that I would get "chipmunk cheeks", but I got CHIPMUNK EVERYTHING!!!. I recently lost 50 lbs using Spark and felt really great! I now have a new medical problem and the medication I am on is making me gain weight again. I am extremely frustrated because I am eating right and still gaining...Thank you for your article. It couldn't have come at a better time and is giving me some hope!! Report
While I have not been on meds long term that would cause me weight gain I can still feel your pain. I was in a car accident 8 years ago and now have 2 discs (neck and lumbar) that should be replaced, just had a nerve decrompression surgery in my arm to hopefully reduce the numbness. and this is along with lots of other problems that started to come. The pain meds always made me very sick and I felt so drugged up and like a zombie so I had to stay off them, but instead then I had the pain that could not make me work out and I became very inactive as just doing the dishes or mopping the floor would make me be on bedrest the rest of the day. Certain times I would feel depressed about it and not getting the proper help or once I finally started getting help it would be time to move since we are in the military. Right now I started off really good was determined to work out even if I felt pain and it was showing off then the surgery came and I am stuck again :( Hopefully this recovery can go fast and I get get back at tracking my food good and work out like I should again. Report
I feel your frustration...A combination of prednisone & anti-histamines to combat chronic hives...over a 4 year period...did cause a weight gain...and the disappointment associated with that...But it IS coming off...again! Stay strong! Report
I'm so sorry you are battling a pinched nerve, Beth! Thank you for the battle plan! I've gained 20 pounds twice in the past three years from short term medication and really feel for folks who have to be on it long term. It's ugly to deal with! Report
Way to hang in there! Report
I get where you are coming from-I also have RA & asthma-I have used Pred.for flares for
both of these.Then recently when I was doing well weight wise-got really sick-irst couple
of days I actually lost weight,then come big doses of Pred & steroid injections to get
things under control-a month of this & I'm back where I started-very frustrating!Factor in
stress & the picture isn't pretty! Thank you for sharing -appreciate it! Report
You are a strong, smart lady - all the best to you! Report
I was on prednisone last month and gained 15 lbs! I am still seeing the water retention in my legs and ankles! I hope I never have to have it again! Report
I"m on thyroid medication that has caused weight gain so I try to fight it every single day. Report
I'm so overwhelmed at your insights and bravery I'm in tears. I've been there and no matter what I did, it just got harder and harder to even maintain my weight from the steroids and every time I had to increase my insulin, the more weight I gained. It's a vicious circle of despair. I had already signed onto SP and put my weight there and lost 10 lbs. Then the monster cycle hit me, and I was going backwards.

I'm appreciative and thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are my new hero. You've given me hope. I CAN and WILL do it.

Renie Report
I'm severely allergic to poison oak/sumac/ivy & often catch it during spring when neighbors burn it with leaves/lawn remnants & have been prescribed prednisone too. While thankful it works it surely packs on the pounds & terrorizes my mood. Thank you for sharing your ordeal & your wonderful planning! :-) Report
A lot of the excess weight that I carry is a result of nearly 3 years of escalating infertility treatments. Hormones are powerful and can really knock you out of whack. Add in the emotional impact of month after month of NOT getting pregnant and 50 excess pounds was easy to pick up. Happily, now that my twins are turning 8 (!) I have finally lost the weight I gained during my pregnancy and the four months they spent in the NICU and I am now smaller than I was when I first got pregnant.
It's good to see articles like this one, because it is all too easy to blame ourselves when we are not seeing the results we would like, when there really may be physical medical factors that need to be considered and actively addressed. Report
Thank you for this article. It really hit home. I was just put on prednisone for the second time this month due to a back issue. The unfortunate thing is that I'm not allowed to exercise until we figure out what is wrong. At first, all the hunger issues and mood swings I thought was me being depressed and not being able to exercise, but after reading this, I get a better explanation. I'm going to try stocking up on some of those suggestions and also increase the intake of water to see if it helps. Thanks again for this wonderful article. Hopefully I won't be on the prednisone and muscle relaxers much longer..... Report
My brother was on an antidepressant that really made him feel better, but he had a good bit of weight gain and so he stopped taking it. I thought it was the medicine causing his weight gain, but the fact that he felt so much better so he was eating more and going places. He changed medicine and lost the weight, but he isn't feeling well on this medicine. Report
Congratulations. I admire your sense of discipline. Very impressive. Report
I've been taking prednisone continuosly for 17 years and am 100 pounds overweight. Most of which is directly contributable to the lupus and the prednisone. Just as I lose ten pounds which can take six months, I'l flare and up goes the prednisone and up goes the weight. : P

One thing no one has mentioned is that long term use of steroids cause bone loss and you should be taking 1200 mg of calcium and a vitamin D supplement every day while you are on it. I've had the bones in my feet break more then ten times the last one requiring surgery. Also the ribs will break. NOT FUN! It can also cause diabetes. Fortunately though I've never had the mood swings. : ) Report
I just want to congratulate you on handling so well, the special challenges that you were facing because of your medication! Report
I have been on an inhaled streriod most of my adult life and I am certain the damned thing is to blame for at least PART of my mess. Report
I was diagnosed with an adrenal disorder about 5 years ago and have been on a daily dose of some kind of steroid since then. It's gotten my hormone levels in check, but I wish my doctor had warned me about the possible weight gain and effect on my mood. Despite trying different meds and dosages, I've gained almost 100 pounds since then. Part of the problem was gaining weight so quickly even while I was eating well, staying active, and getting regular exercise. It was so discouraging that I gave up. But I'm trying again! The medication adds an extra challenge, and maybe I'll never get back to my original weight, but it's still worth trying. - Thanks for the article. Glad to know others struggle with it. And great tips for snacks and staying hydrated! Report
I've had to take prednisone off and on for Crohn's Disease. Good for you that you were able to eat healthy and exercise. When I get a flare-up I don't have these options because I'm much too sick. Fortunately I'm on a medication now that seems to be working. I don't care if I have to take it for the rest of my life as long as I can stay away from steroids. Report
I am sorry you have a pinched nerve! Thanks for all the information on Prednisone, which my Dr did't tell me about! She put me on it back a month ago for 6 days, for bronchitis. I knew about the weight gain part from someone else's blog on SP. Now I know why I was experiencing the rest! Just now getting the 4 pounds I gained then, back off! Patience is the key and not giving in to the ravenous hunger! Take care. Report
I was on Prendisone for 18 months and I wish I had that information before I went on it. I have RA and am now on Plaquinal and I is working. I gained 26 pounds while on Prendison and have now lost all of that weight but it took over 2 years. If I ever have to go back on it I'll know the drawbacks. Information is golden. I wish the doctor had told be about it. Report
Proud of you for doing what you needed to overcome challenges. You are truly an inspiration... Report
I also suffer from RA. This winter has been very hard since I am flaring badly. I had to take some prednizone for a week when the pain was just too much to bare. I knew I would gain weight but fortunately it was only 4 pounds. It took me a couple weeks to take it back off.

It can be very frustrating and depressing to work so hard to lose weight and to have to take a drug, which counteracts my hard work. Sparkpeople really helps me keep a more positive attitude. So good to have others who have experienced the same struggles and have shared their information. Thanks to you all. Report
I had a shoulder operation to remove a spur and wore a jogging suit to the hospital because I knew my arm would be useless. Had a reaction to the medicine so there for a week instead of one day. When I was getting ready to go home I could get my jogging slacks. I finally finish dressing with the help of my husband but you talk of uncomfortable. When I came home and looked in the mirrow I looked like the doughboy my face was so swollen. Had the experience of medicines swollening my body and don't like it at all. You have no control with the swollen bodys, weight gain you can. Report
Thanks for sharing. You had some great tips that will definitely be a help to me.

Oh, yeah! I can relate to that story. You were lucky that you knew what to expect ahead of time and had a plan to deal with it. For me my first experience with steroieds was also with Prednisone was when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I read the information on the drug and then didn't think any more about it. This was before I was living healthy. I gained 30 lbs in 3 months. I have taken off that 30 plus another 10 in the past 5 years. It isn't easy to lose weight while on Prednisone but it can be done. I was on a fairly large dose when I started trying to control my weight. I lost the first 25 or so pounds while still taking the drug (in increasingly smaller doses). I have now been off the steroid for 3 years except for occasional shots in localized areas (which does not have as many side effects as when taken orally).

Good luck! Report
I gained weight after treatment for breast cancer. The worst was Megace which is fantastic for hot flashes but I couldn't stop eating. Nobody told me it's used to stimulate appetites for patients in the hospital! Report
It is rough when you have to take a steroid. I too have had to take prednisone. Being aware of its side effects can help in this battle. Report
My doctor decided to switch my ADHD medications when I was in high school- right before she left on vacation. By the time she got back two weeks later, I had gained 30 pounds, and the weight gain didn't stop when she took me back off of the medication. I ended up gaining 130 pounds, and I've been struggling to take it off ever since. (10 years later, and so far, no luck.) Thank you for the inspiriation! Report
I can completely understand. I recently had hip surgery and a subsequent blood clot. I've been on a medrol dose pack (steroids) twice for inflammation since I can't take anti-inflammatories now because of the clot... It's rough - Not only do I have ridiculous cravings and mood swings, but sometimes junk food honestly seems to make my hip feel better (I'm completely aware that this isn't the actual case, but it feels real). On top of that I can't exercise outside of physical therapy, so I sometimes feel out of control of the situation. But I like these tips, and I will definately apply them to my current practices and as I'm battling back I hope they will help me avoid slipping back into some of those way to easy bad habits.

Best wishes and Good Luck! Thanks! Report
Thanks for your story. It gives me extra support to go on. I've been on prednisone for 25 years now. I recognise your tactics for fighting the cravings. The last three years I gained 26 pounds, due to the prednisone I need to take for lupus. For me the last year it was impossible to do excercises and I was frustrated because every time I start to go to the gym, I need to stop, because of an active lupus. 8 weeks ago I discovered sparkpeople and I started with the cardioexcercises at home, 10 minutes every day and it worked! It made me feel good. I last 4 pounds and I started to go to the gym again. I hope my lupus keeps quiet for a while, so I can loose some more weight doing my exercises.
Thanks again for your story. Report
Yes, Lyrica made me gain over 50 pounds and believe me, I didnt' need that added weight gain. Report
Thank you for this blog. I wish someone had given me this advice years ago. I have had to go on various steroids several times after hurting my hip and while I don't know how much it contributed to my weight gain after I hurt my hip, I think it was a factor. I wasn't told any of this by my doctors--not even warned about the weight gain, let alone the other factors. If I had been told this ahead of time, I could have had a strategy for dealing with it. Report