Lyme disease can cause weight loss and weight gain, although these are not typical symptoms of the condition. In rare cases, some people develop eating disorders. Knowing how Lyme disease can affect your weight can help you manage the changes.

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Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. The disease spreads primarily through bites of black-legged ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.

The most characteristic symptom of Lyme disease is a bull’s-eye rash at the site of the tick bite. Other common symptoms include headache, fever, and muscle and joint pain. Lyme disease can also cause long-term symptoms that persist for months or even years.

Some people with chronic Lyme disease note changes in their weight. Celebrities such as Amy Schumer and Avril Lavigne have gone public about weight loss and Lyme disease, but it can also cause weight gain.

While there’s no extensive research on how Lyme disease affects your weight, a few studies have explored the link. This article reviews the research and discusses how Lyme disease causes weight loss or weight gain in some people.

The Lyme Disease Association notes that Lyme disease may cause weight loss or weight gain. It’s unclear how it does this, but researchers have proposed a few theories.

A 2020 analysis of 100 people with late-stage Lyme disease noted weight loss in 45% of participants and weight gain in 49%. The weight gain occurred whether or not the participants consumed more food. They also observed anorexia emerge as a symptom.

The researchers caution that everyone in this subgroup sought psychiatric support and may not accurately represent the broad spectrum of people with this condition.

They didn’t suggest any mechanisms that might lead Lyme disease to cause disordered eating. However, they did discuss other potential symptoms of Lyme disease that could alter appetite, the ability to exercise, or a person’s metabolism. Symptoms included:

Effects on taste and smell

Lyme disease may affect the cranial nerves in the back of your brain. These help with sensations such as smell and taste. The effects of Lyme disease on these nerves may cause:

Changes in taste and smell can affect your eating.

Gastrointestinal problems

People with chronic Lyme disease often develop gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms due to the infection or medication they need to take. This can lead to:

Psychological effects

Mental health disorders are common in Lyme disease. But they could persist for years. These disorders can affect your appetite, energy level, or motivation to exercise.

Common mental effects of Lyme disease that could affect your weight include:

Hormonal imbalance

The 2020 study mentioned above noted thyroid dysfunction in 1 in every 5 participants. Your thyroid plays a role in your metabolism by regulating certain hormones. A 2018 study of people with chronic Lyme disease found that 41% of participants had a hormone imbalance.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of chronic Lyme disease can affect your appetite or activity. These include:

A 2019 report from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) identifies weight loss as a specific symptom of previously treated Lyme disease. This means symptoms have persisted for 6 months or more after treating the initial infection.

Some of the above causes may lead to you losing weight. These include:

  • depression and anxiety
  • GI problems
  • thyroid dysfunction

But there may be other causes as well.

Bartonellosis (cat scratch fever) is a common Lyme disease coinfection. Ticks that carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease may also carry Bartonella, which causes cat scratch fever. This condition may cause poor appetite and weight loss.

Bannwarth syndrome is a neurological condition that may coexist with Lyme disease. This condition can cause significant weight loss. Bannwarth syndrome is earmarked by painful inflammation of spinal nerve roots. It’s more common in Europe than in the U.S.

The same 2019 ILADS report notes that weight gain is a possible symptom of untreated chronic Lyme disease. “Untreated” could mean a delayed diagnosis.

The aches, pains, and swollen joints commonly associated with Lyme disease may make it hard for you to remain active. Less exercise and physical activity may result in weight gain for some people.

Weight gain may also result from changes in appetite, shifts in mood, and depression.

The antibiotics you use to treat Lyme disease may also play a role. Antibiotics affect gut health by changing the collection of microbes in your gut. This may alter how your GI system breaks down food and absorbs calories, leading to weight gain.

How common are weight changes in people with Lyme disease?

There are no large studies to provide strong data on weight changes in people with Lyme disease. Anecdotal evidence suggests that weight changes are less common than some of the more hallmark symptoms.

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There are several documented cases of people with long-term or recurrent Lyme disease who developed anorexia nervosa.

Lyme disease can cause inflammation in your nervous system, including autoimmune encephalitis (inflammation of brain tissue). Encephalitis may trigger neuropsychiatric symptoms and anorexia nervosa in some people.

While uncommon, Lyme disease or other bacterial infections may cause this eating disorder in some instances.

The rapid weight loss or weight gain associated with Lyme disease can be challenging to manage. In many instances, your weight will stabilize once the infection has gone completely.

In the meantime, supporting your overall health with nutritious food may be beneficial. Lyme disease is a systemic, inflammatory condition. For that reason, an anti-inflammatory diet may be especially helpful for managing weight and overall health.

Once you stop taking antibiotics, you may also wish to add probiotics that support gut health to your daily intake.

If you’re experiencing stubborn weight gain, try to increase your physical activity. This may be challenging if you’re dealing with joint pain and fatigue. Once Lyme disease is behind you, you may find it easier to exercise.

While not specific to weight management, make sure to get enough sleep. Fatigue can lead to overeating.

Getting the help you need to manage your emotions is also important. Managing depression and anxiety will help you make good health decisions and reduce the desire to overeat or undereat. Meditation, yoga, and speaking with a mental health professional may also help.

Some strategies to manage changes in your weight may also help prevent dramatic changes.

  • Eat a nutritious diet that contains anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Exercise and add physical activity to your daily routine.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Support your mental health with calming activities.

Can diet help me treat Lyme disease?

The treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics. But you may be able to reduce the systemic inflammation caused by Lyme disease by eating an anti-inflammatory diet.

Diet alone is not a cure for Lyme disease. To avoid recurrence, make sure to take all of your prescribed medication.

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Lyme disease may cause weight changes, including weight loss or weight gain, in some people. Data on how often this occurs is lacking.

For people with Lyme disease infection, dramatic changes in weight can be challenging to overcome. But many people find that their weight stabilizes once the infection resolves.