Weight Loss with Lupus
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2020 | Last updated: April 2023
Unexplained weight loss (losing weight when eating and exercise habits have not changed) is one of the many symptoms of lupus. One study from the Middle East found that weight changes occurred in 13 percent of people who were newly diagnosed with lupus, with fatigue appearing in 35 percent, rash in 37 percent, photosensitivity in 35 percent, hair loss in 39 percent, and joint pain in 68 percent.1
What causes weight loss in people with lupus?
The weight loss may be caused by several other symptoms of lupus, including:2
- Decreased appetite due to fatigue or pain
- Mouth ulcers
- Gastrointestinal issues
A study from Japan speculates that autoimmune diseases like lupus cause weight loss when the disease impacts the hormone leptin or leptin receptor cells. Leptin regulates appetite and energy expenditure from the hypothalamus. It is believed that lupus interferes with either production of leptin or how it is used by the body, causing decreased appetite and increased energy use.3
Some people with lupus gain weight before diagnosis, often because kidney disease is causing salt and water retention. After diagnosis, weight gain is usually associated with steroid use.2
How is weight loss in lupus treated?
Depending on your unique combination of lupus symptoms, including weight loss, your doctor may prescribe medication along with make lifestyle suggestions. Bringing your lupus under control may help stimulate your appetite so you may have to take some combination of antimalarials, steroids or immunosuppressants. NSAIDs may help reduce pain.
A diet rich in nutritious foods can also support your overall health, which may help stimulate your appetite. Avoid garlic and alfalfa sprouts because these foods increase inflammation in people with lupus.4