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Weight Fluctuations When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Last updated: January 2021

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about having rheumatoid arthritis is the cyclical relationship between RA and weight. I’m not sure what other advocates and community members have experienced, but I have found myself experiencing shifts in weight since I was diagnosed.

There will be a few months when I will not gain any weight (in fact, I will lose that weight at a fairly rapid rate). However, something clicks, and all of a sudden, I start gaining back all that weight that I lost before. I feel bloated like a balloon when this happens. It makes me wonder: What is happening here?

Gaining weight when my RA is active

The first thing that comes to mind in explaining this cyclical relationship is the fact that rheumatoid arthritis is not a stable disease, in my experience. Meaning that there are times when I have my disease in check and times when it has me in check.

It is during the times in which I am feeling worse that I find myself experiencing weight gain because when I feel worse, I am not as active as I normally am and resort to eating comfort foods to solace the physical (and emotional) pain I’m experiencing. So, part of the answer to weight gain is indirectly rheumatoid arthritis but also how I deal with my disease.

Weight loss when I feel good

When I’m feeling fairly good — that is, when my disease is not as active — I am able to walk and exercise more, enjoy the fresh air, and feel happier. I’m less focused on how my body is feeling and more focused on fueling my body to be the best it can be.

This includes eating better, talking with friends, and experiencing life as it should be. All these factors influence my weight and cause me to lose it — especially the weight I gained in a bad period.

RA medications may also impact weight

The other factor to consider here is the medication that is used to treat RA. I am not on methotrexate — which is known to cause weight gain — but I am on Humira.

From the research that I’ve conducted, there isn't any conclusive evidence determining whether Humira causes weight gain. Most of the studies examine a similar pattern that I’ve described (relating activity and emotional levels/cycles with weight), although there are some that explicitly demarcate TNF inhibitors cause weight gain. The only thing I can determine from this in my experience is that drugs potentially affect weight gain.

In looking at this cycle of weight, it seems that maybe weight and rheumatoid arthritis are indirectly related and that there are a lot more intersections involved than just diet and exercise.

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