Weight Loss

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Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Weight Loss or Gain

Body weight largely depends on lifestyle factors, though disorders should not be overlooked. In fact, these autoimmune diseases may be the cause of unintentional weight changes.

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Health and body weight largely depend on lifestyle factors, though disease states should not be overlooked.

In fact, common diseases that cause weight loss or gain are autoimmune disorders. These are conditions in which the body's own immune system attacks its own healthy cells.

Whether related to prescribed medications or disease management, find out how autoimmune diseases may cause changes in weight.

Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Weight Loss and Gain

From Celiac disease to rheumatoid arthritis, these eight autoimmune disorders may be the cause of an unintentional weight change.

1. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is characterized by an abnormal response to ingested gluten.

Essentially, the body perceives gluten as a harmful substance, thus attacking its own gastrointestinal lining. This leads to unpleasant digestive symptoms.

Weight loss is a common side effect of celiac disease, particularly when gluten continues to be exposed and triggers diarrhea or a loss of appetite.

2. Type 1 Diabetes

There are two primary types of diabetes, including types 1 and 2. Unlike type 2 diabetes that may be avoided by healthy lifestyle choices, type 1 diabetes is unpreventable.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells, the hormone responsible for supplying the body's cells with glucose from carbohydrate sources.

Without diagnosing or effectively managing type 1 diabetes, individuals are prone to weight loss. This is because glucose is excreted into the urine rather than taken up by the body for available use.

3. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints.

When the joints are essentially attacked and inflamed, individuals may experience mild to severe pain, stiffness, and swelling. The discomfort may result to a declined capability for completing day-to-day functions and a lower quality of life.

The goal of treatment is to reduce associated pain and inflammation and improve overall functioning. Along with a potential reduction in activity levels, commonly prescribed steroids for RA management may also cause weight gain.

4. Ankylosing Spondylitis

Also a form of arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) mostly affects the spine and causes inflammation in the spinal joints.

Without proper management and treatment, individuals may experience a reduced desire to be active related to plummeted energy and magnified pain.

Like RA, steroids prescribed to control ankylosing spondylitis may cause weight gain.

5. Addison's Disease

Also known as adrenal insufficiency, Addison's disease occurs when the body produces insufficient amounts of hormones produced by the adrenal glands, including too little cortisol and aldosterone.

Individuals usually develop symptoms slowly, including a decreased appetite and unintentional weight loss.

6. Graves' Disease

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism.

One of the most significant symptoms of Graves' disease is weight loss, even with an increased appetite and food intake, related to an elevated metabolism.

7. Hashimoto's Disease

Hashimoto's disease is perhaps one of the most notorious diseases that prevents weight loss.

Unlike Graves' disease that leads to hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto's disease results to an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism.

A slowed down metabolism makes weight gain that much easier and weight loss that much more difficult, especially if left untreated.

8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Although the cause of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not exactly known, researchers believe genetics, the environment, and an overactive immune system are responsible.

IBD is primarily broken down into Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). Crohn's disease is characterized by inflammation throughout any part of the digestive tract, though mostly affects the end of the small intestine (the ileum) where it joins the beginning of the large intestine (the colon).

Ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine, including a segment or the entire portion of the rectum and colon.

Despite the areas affected, untreated IBD can cause unpleasant GI symptoms, including nutrient malabsorption and diarrhea, that may result to weight loss.

Managing Weight With an Autoimmune Disease

Although there may be more hardships and obstacles to consider, a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease does not have to determine your weight destination.

In addition to managing the underlying disease with appropriate therapy, a healthcare team can help make tailored nutritional recommendations. For instance, while it may be obvious to eliminate gluten following a celiac diagnosis, there are numerous hidden sources of gluten. There is an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies after dismissing a large food group as well.

Healthcare experts can also advise an exercise plan to accommodate personal goals and needs. This is especially helpful for those managing arthritis, and other disorders causing discomfort, that may need an adjusted fitness routine.

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on November 30, 2017. Updated on November 25, 2019.

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