Autoimmune diseases, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells, are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed conditions. Misdiagnosis is common due to the complex nature of these diseases and their wide array of symptoms that often overlap with other disorders.
A study revealed that 76% of individuals with systemic autoimmune diseases reported at least one misdiagnosis for symptoms subsequently attributed to their condition. Moreover, more than 40% of women who were eventually diagnosed with a severe autoimmune disease had been previously dismissed by a doctor.
The symptoms of autoimmune diseases can be deceptive, leading individuals and sometimes even medical professionals to underestimate their severity. These symptoms could include swollen glands, fever, joint pain, skin problems, and exhaustion. But one of the most disregarded signs is an inexplicable change in weight, either gain or loss.
Weight changes can be a significant indicator of an underlying autoimmune condition. Many individuals experience these changes, which can be confusing and frustrating. They might attribute these alterations to factors like diet, exercise, or stress before considering the possibility of an autoimmune disease.
8 Autoimmune Diseases That Can Influence Weight
Here are the eight autoimmune diseases that have a profound influence on body weight, shedding light on their complex relationship with our overall wellbeing.
Type 1 Diabetes
This autoimmune disease impairs the pancreas, resulting in minimal or nonexistent insulin production. The hormone insulin is required for sugar, or glucose, to enter cells and be converted into energy. The absence of insulin causes sugar to build up in your bloodstream, leading to increased thirst and frequent urination. As a result, you may lose calories and weight because your body starts to use fat and muscle for energy.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is an inflammatory disorder affecting multiple joints, including those in the hands and feet. While RA itself doesn’t directly cause weight gain, inflammation and pain can limit physical activity, leading to weight gain. Moreover, corticosteroids, a common medication used for managing the condition, can increase appetite and water retention, resulting in weight gain.
Consuming gluten, a protein present in wheat, barley, and rye, can cause this autoimmune disease. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the small intestine’s lining, leading to malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhoea, bloating, and unintended weight loss.
This rare illness develops when your body does not produce enough of a few hormones that your adrenal glands produce. Insufficient levels of aldosterone and too little cortisol are produced by the adrenal glands in people with Addison’s disease. This may result in low blood pressure, weariness, muscle weakness, weight loss, and occasionally skin darkening.
The disorder known as hypothyroidism is caused by insufficient thyroid hormone production by the thyroid gland. These hormones are essential for regulating how quickly your body breaks down food. A slower metabolism can make you feel tired and cold and may cause weight gain.
This disorder develops when your thyroid gland overproduces the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Your body’s metabolism may be accelerated by hyperthyroidism, which can lead to abrupt weight loss, sweating, an erratic or fast heartbeat, and anxiety or irritability.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD is a term used to describe two conditions that cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Prolonged inflammation results in damage to the GI tract, leading to symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss.
The immune system attacking its own tissues results in lupus, an inflammatory disease. Numerous bodily systems, such as your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs, may be impacted. High levels of chronic inflammation brought on by lupus can impair metabolism and cause weight loss. However, lupus medications, particularly corticosteroids, can make you gain weight.
Managing Weight Changes Associated with Autoimmune Diseases
Managing weight changes associated with autoimmune diseases involves a comprehensive approach that includes;
Regularly consult with your healthcare provider for appropriate treatment of the underlying autoimmune condition. Depending on the particular disease, this could involve medication, physical therapy, or other interventions.
A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help manage weight changes. Some individuals may also benefit from specific dietary approaches, such as a gluten-free diet for those with celiac disease. Consultation with a dietitian can be beneficial in creating a personalized eating plan.
Regular physical activity
Regular exercise can help you manage your weight and improve your overall health. Exercise should be customized to your unique needs and preferences in terms of both type and intensity.
Your body’s metabolism can be upset by sleep deprivation, which can result in weight gain. Try to get between 7-9 hours of good sleep every night.
Keep an eye on your weight, but keep in mind that it is only one component of your overall health. Focus on how you feel overall and any changes in your symptoms.
It’s essential to remember that weight management should not focus solely on weight loss or gain. It should include a holistic approach to promote overall health. Consulting with healthcare professionals, including dietitians and physical therapists, can provide personalized strategies based on your specific condition and needs.
Moreover, while it might be tempting to resort to extreme diets or excessive exercise to manage weight changes, these approaches can often do more harm than good. Instead, follow the tips provided above, which are a combination of a balanced diet rich in nutrients and regular and moderate physical activity. Before beginning any new exercise or diet regimen, always get advice from your healthcare provider.
Navigating Autoimmune Diseases and Weight Management
Your body can be significantly affected by autoimmune diseases, and weight changes may be one of those effects. If you’ve noticed symptoms associated with any of the autoimmune diseases discussed above, such as unexplained weight gain or loss, it’s crucial to seek medical advice.
It is important to keep in mind that prompt diagnosis and treatment can significantly impact the management of the disease and its manifestations, including fluctuations in weight. The treatment plan will almost certainly include more than just weight-loss strategies. It may incorporate medication, dietary changes, physical therapy, stress management techniques, and more, tailored to your specific condition and needs.
It is critical to recognize that each person’s experience with autoimmune diseases is unique. That being said, what suits one individual might not suit someone else. Open communication with your healthcare provider, regular monitoring of symptoms, and adjustments to your treatment plan as necessary are key components of successfully managing an autoimmune disease.