Epidemiology, implications and mechanisms underlying drug-induced weight gain in psychiatric patients

J Psychiatr Res. May-Jun 2003;37(3):193-220. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3956(03)00018-9.


Body weight gain frequently occurs during drug treatment of psychiatric disorders and is often accompanied by increased appetite or food craving. While occurrence and time course of this side effect are difficult to predict, it ultimately results in obesity and the morbidity associated therewith in a substantial part of patients, often causing them to discontinue treatment even if it is effective. This paper reviews the available epidemiological data on the frequency and extent of weight gain associated with antidepressant, mood-stabilizing, and antipsychotic treatment. Possible underlying pathomechanisms are discussed with special attention to central nervous control of appetite including the role of leptin and the tumor necrosis factor system. Metabolic alterations induced by drug treatment such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and the metabolic syndrome are also considered. Weight gain appears to be most prominent in patients treated with some of the second generation antipsychotic drugs and with some mood stabilizers. Marked weight gain also frequently occurs during treatment with most tricyclic antidepressants, while conventional antipsychotics typically induce only slight to moderate weight gain. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors may induce weight loss during the first few weeks, but some of them induce weight gain during long-term treatment. Several antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs are identified which reliably do not cause weight gain or even reduce weight. Based on these insights, countermeasures to manage drug-induced weight gain are suggested.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Body Mass Index
  • Counseling
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Energy Intake / drug effects
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / drug effects
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Obesity / chemically induced*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Psychotropic Drugs / administration & dosage
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / classification
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • Weight Gain / drug effects*


  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Glucose