Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected black-legged tick. Common symptoms can range from an erythema migrans (EM) rash, to swollen lymph nodes, to joint pain. Untreated Lyme disease, or an infection that is not adequately treated with antibiotics during acute Lyme disease, can allow the bacterium to move to other parts of the body. Later stages of Lyme disease can result in Lyme arthritis (different from rheumatoid arthritis) or neurological Lyme, sometimes resulting in chronic Lyme disease. Lyme disease can also affect your weight. Let’s go through the ways a Lyme infection impacts your body and what changes you might see in your weight.
Ways Lyme Disease May Affect Your Weight
Because of the ways Lyme disease affects your immune system and other parts of the body, you may find that you lose weight. When your body responds to an infection, be it Lyme or another tick-borne disease, it uses calories to try and fight, so you might burn more calories when you’re sick than you usually would. The activation of your immune system can also cause changes in your metabolism, which may affect your weight.
More specifically, Lyme disease can affect you in the following ways, all of which can impact your weight:
Gastrointestinal (GI) Problems
Lyme disease bacteria can enter every system of the body, including the GI tract. Gastrointestinal symptoms of Lyme include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. These can all result in calorie or appetite loss, causing you to lose weight.
Studies show that up to 41% of people with Lyme disease have hormonal imbalance. In addition to other health issues, this can cause problems with the thyroid, leading to weight changes.
Change in Taste and Lifestyle
Feeling sick can impact your appetite and your desire or ability to exercise. Your eating and activity levels may change. One of the most common Lyme disease symptoms is fatigue, in both early and chronic Lyme. Patients sometimes experience post exertional malaise (PEM), where any type of physical or mental exertion can wipe them out. You might need several days to recover from one day of activity.
Effects on Mental Health
Other Effects on Health
Lyme disease can impact your health in other ways that may subsequently influence your weight, including:
- Motion sickness
Can Lyme Disease Also Cause Weight Gain?
For many of the same reasons Lyme disease can cause weight loss, it can also cause weight gain. These reasons can include:
- Changes in metabolism
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Lifestyle changes like lack of exercise
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle While Fighting Lyme Disease
The best way to control weight fluctuations and to help your body heal while fighting Lyme disease is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This can be incredibly difficult when you don’t feel well, but there are some things you can do that can help:
Lyme disease causes inflammation, which can impact pain and other symptoms. An anti-inflammatory diet can help your body fight the illness and avoid chronic inflammation. Many people follow the “Lyme diet,” eliminating sugar, gluten, and sometimes dairy. Think about nourishing your body with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
As you’re able, it’s important to rebuild your tolerance for physical activity, to combat chronic fatigue and gain back muscle (and therefore sometimes weight) loss. It can help to work with a Lyme literate physical therapist who will not push you to a point of post exertional malaise.
Prioritizing Mental Health and Self Care
Lyme and other tick-borne illness affect your entire body, so it’s important to take a holistic approach to healing, one that includes antibiotic treatment for the infection but also focuses on your mental health and emotional well-being. This could include seeing a talk therapist or seeking other professional help for depression, establishing good sleep hygiene, doing adjunct therapies, doing calming activities, and making time for joy and pleasure even when you’re at your sickest.
Talk to your primary care doctor, Lyme literate medical doctor (LLMD), or a functional medicine doctor to determine the best lifestyle and nutrition choices to support your body as you fight Lyme disease.
Preventing Lyme Disease
The best way to avoid having Lyme affect your weight is to prevent Lyme disease altogether. There is not a Lyme vaccine, though researchers are working on various options, so currently the best method of disease control is to prevent tick exposure. To help avoid a tick bite, follow these steps to Be Tick AWARE:
- AVOID areas where ticks live such as wood piles, leaf litter, long grass, beach grass, busy areas, stone walls, and perimeters where the lawn meets the woods.
- WEAR light-colored clothing to spot ticks more easily, like a long-sleeved tucked in at the waist, long pants tucked into high socks, closed-toed shoes, and a hat with your hair tucked in.
- APPLY EPA-approved tick repellent (such as picaridin or DEET) to skin and insecticide (such as permethrin) to clothing and shoes, as directed.
- REMOVE clothing upon entering the home; toss into the dryer at high temperature for 10-15 minutes to kill live ticks (putting them in the washer won’t work).
- EXAMINE yourself and your pets for ticks daily, feeling for bumps in areas like the back of knees, the groin, the armpits, in and behind the ears, in the belly button, and on the scalp.
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The above material is provided for information purposes only. The material (a) is not nor should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor (b) does it necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of Global Lyme Alliance, Inc. or any of its directors, officers, advisors or volunteers. Advice on the testing, treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.