Does Bipolar Disorder Cause Weight Gain?

Bipolar disorder is associated with several serious health conditions, including weight gain and obesity.

The World Health Organization defines overweight and obese as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to someone’s health.”

Medically reviewed in May 2022

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes a person to experience intense and sudden changes in moods, emotions, and behaviors.

Episodes can be manic, where a person may feel overly happy and energized—but also more irritable and likely to engage in risky behaviors. Other episodes can be depressive, where a person feels sad, hopeless, and low energy. Many people with bipolar disorder experience mixed episodes, where manic and depressive symptoms occur simultaneously.

Bipolar disorder can affect all aspects of a person’s life, from personal relationships to performance in work or school. It can also mean that a person is more likely to have certain other conditions, some related to mental health and others related to physical health.

Some of the most significant health problems that have been associated with bipolar disorder are weight gain and obesity.

Overweight and obese
The World Health Organization defines overweight and obese as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to someone’s health.”

Being obese has the potential to damage nearly every aspect of a person’s health. It increases a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and early death. It is associated with multiple types of cancers. It can impair reproductive health, lung function, and cognitive health.

Studies have found an association between obesity and mood disorders—including bipolar disorder—though the relationship is not fully understood. Obesity is prevalent among people with bipolar disorder, but it is also prevalent among Americans in general.

In 2020, it was estimated that 41.9 percent of Americans ages 20 or over were obese. The prevalence of obesity among Americans has been increasing over the past few decades. The prevalence of severe obesity—having a BMI of 40 or higher—has also been increasing.

Weight gain and bipolar disorder
Body weight is something that people with bipolar disorder should discuss with a healthcare provider. Bipolar disorder has been associated with weight gain for a few reasons:

  • Having bipolar disorder can make it more difficult to follow a healthy lifestyle, including exercising consistently and following healthy eating habits, both of which are essential to maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Research shows that having severe mental illness, including bipolar disorder, makes a person more likely to spend more time being sedentary.
  • Certain medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder can lead to weight gain for some people. Weight gain can be the result of medications causing changes to appetite or changes to metabolism.
  • Socioeconomic factors also play a role. Obesity is more prevalent among Americans living in poverty. Bipolar disorder is associated with a significantly higher risk of unemployment.
  • Genetic factors that are associated with bipolar disorder may also put a person at higher risk of being overweight or obese, as well as a higher risk for metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease. However, more research is needed, and these risk factors are not fully understood. As with many diseases, many people with bipolar disorder have family members who also have mental health disorders.

Work with your healthcare provider
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition that requires treatment. While there is no known cure for bipolar disorder, there are effective treatments that can help control the condition. Treatment typically includes medications and therapy and is overseen by a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in treating mental health disorders.

If you have bipolar disorder, weight and weight gain are topics that you should discuss with your healthcare providers. If you need to lose weight, your healthcare providers can help you come up with a safe and sustainable plan to get to a healthier weight.

Article sources open article sources

American Psychiatric Association. What Are Bipolar Disorders?
MedlinePlus. Bipolar Disorder.
National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder.
Doron Sagman and Mauricio Tohen. Comorbidity in Bipolar Disorder. Psychiatric Times. March 23, 2009.
Isabelle E. Bauer, Juan F. Galvez, et al. Lifestyle interventions targeting dietary habits and exercise in bipolar disorder: a systematic review. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2016. Vol. 74.
World Health Organization. Obesity.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Obesity Prevention Sources: Health Risks.
Susan L. McElroy, Mark A. Frye, et al. Correlates of overweight and obesity in 644 patients with bipolar disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2002. Vol. 63, No. 3.
Benjamin I. Goldstein, Shang-Min Liu, et al. The burden of obesity among adults with bipolar disorder in the United States. Bipolar Disorders, 2011. Vol. 13, No. 4.
Noreen A. Reilly-Harrington, Emily H. Feig, and Jeff C. Huffman. Bipolar Disorder and Obesity: Contributing Factors, Impact on Clinical Course, and the Role of Bariatric Surgery. Current Obesity Reports, 2018. Vol. 7.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Facts.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity and Overweight.
Davy Vancampfort, Joseph Firth, et al. Sedentary behavior and physical activity levels in people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder: a global systematic review and meta-analysis. World Psychiatry, 2017. Vol. 16, No. 3.
John L. Beyer and Martha E. Payne. Nutrition and Bipolar Depression. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2016. Vol. 39, No. 1.
Daniel K. Hall-Flavin. Bipolar medications and weight gain. Mayo Clinic.
James A. Levine. Poverty and Obesity in the U.S. Diabetes, 2011. Vol. 60, No. 11.
Charles L. Bowden. Bipolar Disorder and Work Loss. AJMC, 2005. Vol. 11, No. 3 Suppl.
S. J. Winham, A. B. Cuellar-Barboza, et al. Genome-wide association study of bipolar disorder accounting for effect of body mass index identifies a new risk allele in TCF7L2. Molecular Psychiatry, 2014. Vol. 19.
Mayo Clinic Psychiatry and Psychology. Biobank research identifies bipolar-obesity link. Nov. 11, 2016.
Mojgan Gharipour, Majid Barekatain, et al. The Epigenetic Overlap between Obesity and Mood Disorders: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2020. Vol. 21, No. 18.
Ellen F. Charles, Christophe G. Lambert, and Berit Kerner. Bipolar disorder and diabetes mellitus: evidence for disease-modifying effects and treatment implications. International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, 2016. Vol. 4, No. 13.
Benjamin I. Goldstein, Mercedes R. Carnethon, et al. Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder Predispose Youth to Accelerated Atherosclerosis and Early Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation, 2015. Vol. 132, No. 10.

More On

How Nutrition Can Impact Bipolar Disorder

article

How Nutrition Can Impact Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by depressive and manic episodes. During a manic episode, a person may feel hyperactive, i...
What Are the Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder?

article

What Are the Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder?
Are you or a loved one living with bipolar disorder? If so, you know that the illness can cause major shifts in mood, energy and activity levels, and ...
Smoking During Pregnancy Ups Bipolar Risk in Children

article

Smoking During Pregnancy Ups Bipolar Risk in Children
It’s nothing new to hear that smoking is bad for you, or that smoking during pregnancy is harmful to your baby. But here’s an unexpected twist: Mother...
Succeeding with Mental Illness: Slow and Steady

article

Succeeding with Mental Illness: Slow and Steady
Slow and steady wins the race. Or so we’ve been told since we were children. But does anyone really buy this? Does anyone really think that slow and ...