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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AQUAGIRL08 11/28/2019
Great strategies! Thank you! Report
Thanks for the great article. I have to be on a med for seizure disorder and gained weight when I first started it. After being seizure-free for over 10 years, I recently had one. My doctor upped the dose a little. Sure enough, weight started coming back almost immediately. I am choosing to focus on being as healthy as I can, instead of worryingly ng about the pounds themselves. Report
ARNETTELEE 2/13/2019
thanks Report
Absolutely great Report
Thank You for a great article.......... Report
The meds can help you with your pain management. Your body gets an opportunity to shut down for a little while, to rest. This should help get you back to your regimen feeling so much better. Report
Yes, I have gained weight because of medication. I have found yoga and losing weight helps my back and choose that over pain meds. Report
I deal with this everyday! Report
Interesting article Report
I can recall being on some meds that certainly did that (in conjunction with NOT getting enough exercise). Prednisone is nasty though I had to take 3 tabs when I had an almost collapsed lung after an infection a year ago at Christmas. Report
I had edema from a blood pressure medication. Though I discontinued it right away and substituted another medication, it took MONTHS to lose all the edema. Then it has been a fight to lose weight since. Hoping for the downward trend to start again soon! Report
me too, asthma, heart, arthritus = 5 stone on post-op and not walking over 2 years, but......lost 2 stone 5lbs and 2 more since joining spark - slow and difficult , 5 years! Decided that going on for 2 stone will be fabulous for my age and meds etc. I dare not offer time - water retention = human yo-yo too but we all seem to be going at it don't we?
A dress size down and I will twirl happily for a while....till the next one!
I read many of the posts on prednisone use, I have a question when you are completely tapered off, will your weight and shape go back to the way it was before the prednisone? I was on it for six months(60 mg to start) tapered off October 24 was last day, but then had to receive a dose during surgery Dec 14 2012. As of now my weight is still up, doesnt hardly move , if it does it goes up and I look pregnant and have fat thighs. Any advice ? Thank you and keep up the great work on SP! Report
ugh on prednisome now and it sucks! My doc said the weight would come off as easily as it went on... Report
Good thoughts-it is a wonder drug with some hard side effects-your positive attitude
& battle plan are admirable! Report
So far, I'm blessed to be medication free - but wondered if you had seen the movie showing now on Netflix "Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead" - that man gained a lot of weight being on prednisone. He got doctor's approval and went on a juicing diet, lost a LOT of weight and eventually weaned off the prednisone. It was very inspirational and he inspired another man to follow the same diet - also with that man's doctor's approval and involvement. The second man had diabetes and a whole bunch of health problems, and it really helped him as well. So maybe that could help you too? Report
Another wonderful blog. You have more grace under fire than I have any normal day.

I am blessed to be medication free - a blessing I am thankful for every single day and do NOT take lightly. I'm fervently thankful. Report
I have been on Prednisolone for nearly 12 years! I have Neurosarcoidosis (auto immune.) I gained about 4 stone due to the medication and the inactivity of the condition. I tried really hard to lose the weight and have lost a stone only to gain it again. By the end of 2008 I had lost 2.5 stone then i n Jan 2009 I collapsed unconscious and the inactivity and depression set in again and a gain of 2 stone that year. In 2010 I managed to lose over 1.5 stone then in 2011 I joined Spark. Now I have lost another stone and am having my steroids reduced with a view to coming off them so I am hoping to make even more progress this year. I understand exactly what difficulties anyone on this medication is going through. Report
i agree with allof you;Lyrica,hormones,and anti histamines have all produced my weight gain .Lupreon even does this to one.I am a physiciann myself and I know the problems we face prescribing some meds but this happening to me has given me a whole new perspective.Am also on anti depressants-again weight gain and some blood sugar changes.But will not let this get me down.We can lose the weight .SP is proof of that. Report
Not so much pain relief meds for me, but when I was undergoing chemotherapy I ballooned and yet was hardly eating a thing. Before chemo I had no weight issues: was one of the "lucky" people that could eat whatever and not gain: not anymore. I'm still trying to shed that gain, but would do it again if necessary. Report
you are all absolutely right. i have asthma and was put on massive doses of pred for a two year period. i ended up with several side effects to the steroids that left me with multiple surgeries for lump and growth removal, osteoporosis an weight gain of about 50 lbs that i just cant seem to get rid of. just be very careful with this stuff and make sure to ask a lot of questions if it becomes necessary. Report
Well I am on daily pain meds, and I have asthma, and I have a tryroid problem! I am constantly fighting my weight due to my Medication. And that's why I don't "diet", I have learned a way of" Healthy eatting" that I just do everyday. Also, due to the pain (I have chronic back pain) I hate to "excersice", but I enjoy "burning off fat" and I love to dance so I use Zumba and Yoga for my back, and water is my only liquid as I need that to flush out the meds and the fat!
I will never be able to change my illnesses, but I can change my way of life so that I don't become a couch potato and later a shut-in from doing nothing about my condition. Im 53yrs old and I am blessed to not have diabetis yet, but also fear losing limps!. So I use all those fears and make myself get up and I use all my positive saying for motivation while I am burning off that fat, from those drugs and just try to build muscle to help keep my body strong so that my back won't slouch and my stomach will get tight and be able to support my core. It's a hard battle and mine never goes away as most are saying here, but I am determined to win! Report
Yes, my birth control has caused some weight gain. I also was told my anti-anxiety medication can cause me to eat more. I have to be more mindful of that. Report
I remember once or twice I had to be on pred and it really does make you hungry. I am having a problem with sciatica and I am going to have an injection to lessen the swelling and the inflamation. I guess I better talk to the doctor about this before he does it. Report
Wow! For years I've battled with weight gain when I've been forced to take my pain killers. I've never given thought to preparing myself for those days. You have opened my eyes. From now on I know that I have to step up my game even harder when I'm on my meds. Keeping to a tighter diet plan is actually the hardest part. I don't take my meds on any type of schedule so it's harder to prepare myself for that day that I need to take the meds. Regardless, I sure can work out, walk and eat a little less. Report
I was prescribed that when i had hives really bad...every day...all day...and they didn't know why. It was the only thing that worked. But when the doc told me they were steroids I was like no way...he said don't worry you won't be on it for very long and you shouldn't gain weight from it....another round of steroids and 3 months later i was 80 lbs heavier!!!!!

Senior year in college was miserable...left for the summer being active and pretty coming back to school a totally different person. I swore off steroids for hives since then!! When I finished college I joined a gym and worked out 2 to 3 hrs a day every day....and lost all the weight and the hives went away as well. hmmmmm makes me wonder why the doctor didn't prescribe working out that summer instead of roids!!! lol Report
My little brother was on prednisone while he was on chemotherapy - and the doctor screwed up his perscription. He was given NINE TIMES the amount he should have been given. Imagine all of those side effects, times nine!

There are more side effects than this article mentions including personality changes. Now, picture you have a cancer-ridden, ravenous and violent toddler. You know the doctor screwed up, but you can't sue for malpractice because then no one will touch him and that would effectively sentence him to an early death. Your young son wants... eggs! He would eat a dozen eggs a day. He was a roly poly little boy. My mom still talks about the dirty looks she got when she was out with him. I don't remember this (I was only five at the time), but it hit her really hard. I can't imagine the inner arguments she had... All she wanted was her son to be happy and healthy, but all she could do for him at the time was try to give him what he wanted.

OK, so I know that I went on a tangent there, but I just wanted to tell you exactly WHY I appreciate you posting this article. Sometimes there are more things at work. Medication induced hunger is a very real thing.

Keep strong!

PS: My brother is fine now - a healthy - normal weight! - 20 y/o boy. Report
Thank you for this fantastic article. Medication as well as medical conditions truly can and do play a part in our over all well being, and weight gain, or weight loss issues. When my daughter was a mere three months old, she was diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis, and allergies(that we couldnt have her tested for until the age of two). With the skin condition came open sores all over her body~bless her heart she looked like raw hamburger. She was on one oral steroid, and two topicals all used three times a day. Itty bitty at the time, within three years that was catching up with her. Then asthma was diagnosed; which became chronic asthma after her lungs collapsed. The oral steroids and topical steroids were removed, and the was then put on three different inhalers, two puffs three times a day with two of them, and two puffs morning and night with the other. Two of those inhalers are of course steroids. This little miss even with lung issues can sing like no other, she is already a published author(and was by the age of 13). The youngest published author in the state of Kansas~hooray for her. She is already well on her way toward the music entertainment world as well, with already successful, and upcoming artists being challenged/encouraged by Taylor Swift. Her weight is an issue with some doctors, but she knows her health and medication plays a very large part in this. Without the medication she wouldnt be alive, so the weight isnt holding her back from striving for success in the lime light on stage entertaining thousands of fans night after night, or writing book after book, all being published. I am so proud of her~I could just burst!!!!! :o) What a talented young lady she is at the tender age of 14. Report
I believe that the supplement called STAR FLOWER,over the counter can leed to gain weight especially,waist line !!! Report
I think that the Lantus insulin I take at night is not helping things. I feel bad for those that have to take Prednisone on a regular basis, I only took it once (I have MS), and it was HORRIBLE. Report
I am on a chronic dose of prednisone and found this blog to be on the mark with my experience. Thank you for sharing your journey with us! The dose I take now is much lower than in the beginning. It has become much more manageable for me, but in the beginning, I had no idea what I was going into and was not prepared for the insatiable feelings of hunger and subsequent rapid weight gain. I am so grateful for SparkPeople because it's given me the tools to prepare ahead when the rare ocassion comes that I have to briefly increase my dosage again. When that happened this past September, I blogged about it (titled the blog "Preparing for Battle" -- same words you used). Doing this helped me to work through how I could deal with this challenge. Again, thanks for sharing this. It's nice to hear about others with similar struggles and their ability to succeed in spite of them! :)

Stephanie Report
I've had the opposite problem when a medicine I stopped taking caused me to GAIN weight after I stopped it. Last year (late 2009) my insurance randomly decided to stop covering one of the medicines I had been taking for 4 years for my heart. While the pharmacy, my primary care doctor, my cardiologist and my insurance argued over what I could take and what they would cover, my blood pressure skyrocketed and my legs swelled to about 3 times their normal size. After 2 weeks, my BP was 200/100, normally mine runs 110/60. I ended up in the ER where they gave me meds to rapidly lower my BP but they didn't send me home with any new med to take. Later that same night as my BP climb again, I had a mild stroke. It was terrifying. I spent 4 days in the hospital and low and behold the stupid insurance decided they could cover the medication. UGH! They weighed me in the hospital and 7 days later, I had lost 17 lbs because the swelling had subsided. Report
Yes, I've been prescribed medication that caused me to gain weight. Right now, I'm on a medication that I need, but it increases my risk for developing diabetes. My last blood sugar reading was a little abnormal, so I have to be careful to take care of myself, so that things don't get worse. Report
Corticosteroids such as inhalers are primarily absorbed locally (in the lungs) and have little if any systemic absorption unlike oral steroids. It's when steroids are absorbed systemically that they have the greatest effect on one's weight (gain). Report
Hug and healing vibes. I have pain every day due to arthritis, spondylosis, and three bad discs in my lower back. I hated steroids, but they helped for a while. You'll get through this. Report
I had to take a couple of rounds of prednisone in 2009 after I ruptured a couple of discs in my back. While I am eternally grateful to the stuff (I went from agony and near paralysis to manageable pain and being able to move in the space of 12 hours), I wasn't thrilled with the side effects, especially the weight gain. If this ever happens again (and with bad backs, there's a good chance it will), I will find the strategies laid out in this blog very helpful. Report
I to take prednisone for ITP so I can relate. When my platlets go below normal I take 120 mgs of prednisone, I've had glucose levels as high as 500, sometimes too high to read, I too gained weight and it is hard to get off, I was not told what to expect, so I did not know. Take care. Report
I know exactly what you have gone through by taking Prednisone - - I suffer from RA and have been on Prednisone for about 10 years now & will never be off it again - - the weight gain is the most difficult aspect of dealing w/this drug - my clothing size went from an 8 to now a 18 - talk about drepressing - -

My wake-up call - if you will - came a few months ago, when I was labeled OBESE due to my weight & height; I became even more depressed.

In late December I stumbled onto SparkPeople and my attitude about my weight has much improved - I've read many wonderful articles, blogs, and motivational stories which have led me to better eating habits - - I've lost 5 lbs in 2 moths - - it may not be much, but for me, it's a wonderful start :)

I was on prednisone for six months for sarcoidosis, and yes, I gained weight, which I never took off, until last year, when I made a really determined effort to get healthier, stronger and more flexible. Report
Prednisone led to my weight gain :(( Report
More research should be done on Chron's. is the website for more info.
I have Crohn's disease and take high doses of pred for it on and off. I've been on a high dose of it since the middle of December because I'm having a bad bout of Crohn's.

I often feel that the effect of the pred on weight is overstated. Yes pred makes you more hungry, but its still an issue of how many calories you consume. I feel some people use the drugs as an excuse for eating too much and not taking responsibility for the choices they make. I know I've found it tempting to say "I am eating this cake because my drugs are making me want it".

If I overeat and gain weight when I am taking prednisolone it is not because of the pred. It is because I made a choice to overeat. The pred just makes it a little bit harder sometimes.

I deal with it the same way I do normally: lots of veg/salad with every meal to bulk it out, fruit and other healthy snacks available at all times, drink lots of water.

This of course excludes water retention that sometimes comes with steroids - but that's not real weight and will work its way out again within a month or so without any calorie deficit. Report
There are lots of drugs out there that will cause weight gain from steriods to anti-depressants. I had dealt with post partum depression with my first child, my doctors answer was to put me on Paxil and when my depression wasn't lifting she kept upping the amount. 120 pounds heavier and even more depressed I told her part of my depression was the weight gain. To which she informed me that was all the medication so she wasn't concerned about the weight gain. I told her then that I had to come off the medication - the weight gain was causing increased pain due to a spinal injury. Talk about a vicious cycle. Now I look into all the side effects before I consent to being prescribed medication - I have been on Prednisone as well in the past - now I will only take it under exteme circumstances for short periods of time. Report
My DH was on prednisone for so many years, we lost count. It was before we knew all the dangers. He gained over 100 pounds and got cataracks in both eyes. His health suffered. He HAD to have it but I wished we knew all the things you know. Report
Do cortecosteroids like Symbicort (inhaler) for asthma, COPD cause weight gain also?

Annie Report
This information is fantastic for anyone who has to take steroids. Thank you. Report
Yes. when I was on chemo. Every treatment I was given steriods and then a week or so later I went in for another iv of steriods. Even when I wasn't eating much because of the chemo, I still gained weight. Now I am on Femera for 5 years, and I feel I am not losing weight very effectively because of this med. Report
I am on pregabalin to try to help the neuropathy in my feet (so far to no avail!) This drug carries with it a load of nasty side effects too. It can either cause weight gain or weight loss as it can increase appetite or give you nausea and make you 'feel full' and disinterested in food. It's a bit nightmare-ish as I see-saw between the two. Yesterday I was craving all the wrong foods and today I missed out breakfast and had a very late lunch because I wasn't hungry. It also makes me feel exhausted so this week I've missed out on a lot of exercise. Unfortunately the doseage I take is set to increase over time so I will have to think tactically about how to overcome these problems as I don't want my weight to climb back up. Maybe I'll be lucky and be disinterested in food rather than crave it!!!!! Report
Many medications necessary to improve health have the consequence of altering weight outside of "acceptable" parameters. Even more frustrating when no one warns you of such "consequences" even tho' you have an expressed goal to obtain and maintain a healthy weight for YOU. Short term usage can be accommodated by decreasing intake and increasing exercise. But what about those medications that MUST be taken over a lifetime, daily? Adjusting for these is a challenge indeed!!! Report
I have been on prednisone MANY times over the years and one nice thing about it for me is that it gives me more energy than I can use up!! That has not prevented me from gaining weight, but it definitely helps when it comes to working out and being productive in general! Report