Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
Resources
About myRAteam

Appetite and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Posted on March 04, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experience a decreased appetite. Sometimes the condition itself can cause a loss of appetite, and sometimes RA medications can be the culprit. Regardless of the causes, a loss of appetite can lead to unintentional and potentially unhealthy weight loss — which also can be an RA symptom.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. In people with RA, the body’s defenders (white blood cells and antibodies) attack connective tissue lining the joints. The inflammation and joint pain common in RA can contribute to a decreased appetite — as can other RA complications.

If you have RA and have experienced any changes in appetite or unintentional weight loss, seek medical advice from your rheumatologist or primary care provider. They will be able to determine whether RA is behind these changes and decide on the best course of action.

Appetite Loss as an RA Symptom

Many myRAteam members have shared about the changes in appetite they’ve experienced after being diagnosed with RA. One member wondered whether the stress of pain related to the condition could be causing their lack of appetite: “It seems like my appetite comes back when the pain recedes.”

They aren’t alone in experiencing decreased appetite during flare-ups. During a flare, a person with rheumatoid arthritis experiences a period of increased disease activity — that is, worsened arthritis symptoms. While joint symptoms — such as joint pain, stiffness, and swelling — are common, some people also experience more general symptoms, including loss of appetite.

Members of myRAteam have discussed the many ways appetite loss affects them. One described dealing with stomach issues: “RA feels like it’s in [my] stomach.” Another said, “No appetite, and hurting everywhere.”

Appetite Loss and RA Medication

While fatigue and painful joints may contribute to a decrease in appetite, appetite loss can be common for people who take methotrexate, sold under brand names including Trexall and Rheumatrex. Appetite loss also can be an uncommon side effect of several other RA medications, including adalimumab (Humira) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine).

“I’ve been on sulfasalazine for about six months,” wrote one myRAteam member. “It’s been working well for the RA (in combination with Enbrel), but I’ve had a major loss of appetite, mild nausea. … I have to force myself to eat, and nothing tastes good.”

Another member experienced similar side effects when taking Humira. “I am eating; I just find that now, I am not eating because I want to eat — I am eating because I know I have to,” they said.

A third member shared a similar struggle from taking tofacitinib (Xeljanz), describing how they’d lost five pounds since starting the treatment a week prior. “I am eating just enough to get by, but struggle to eat any more than that,” they said.

A member taking methotrexate had a similar loss of appetite, but did not lose weight. “Nausea and loss of appetite, but I’m still piling the weight on.”

Unintended Weight Loss and RA

Appetite loss with RA may lead to unintentional weight loss. As one member described, “I’ve lost about 12-13 pounds during this time — and I didn’t need or want to lose weight.”

Being underweight can be a concern for people with rheumatoid arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, weight loss doesn’t always occur as a result of decreased appetite; it can also be caused by the condition itself. The pro-inflammatory substances that damage the joints and tissues, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), can also lead to:

  • Muscle wasting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss, a condition known as rheumatoid cachexia

If you dip below a healthy weight or experience symptoms of rheumatoid cachexia, your doctor may prescribe a TNF inhibitor to control your RA. They may also recommend healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a balanced diet and not smoking. Additionally, your doctor may suggest that you start a regular exercise routine, or they may refer you to a physical therapist to find exercises that will build muscle without causing undue stress on the joints.

Side effects of medications and complications from RA can also cause weight loss. It is important to discuss any weight loss or decreased appetite with your physician. They will be able to determine the cause of the weight loss.

Meet Your Community

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging. The good news? You don’t have to face them alone. By joining myRAteam — the social network dedicated to bringing together people with RA and their loved ones — you can connect with more than 191,000 members in asking and answering questions, offering support, and sharing stories of daily life with RA.

Have you experienced appetite loss with RA? Share your story in the comments below or by posting on myRAteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

Related articles

For people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), joint pain can be a common aspect of day-to-day...

Collarbone Pain and RA: What It Feels Like and Tips for Managing

For people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), joint pain can be a common aspect of day-to-day...
When most people think of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), they imagine joint pain affecting the wrists...

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Tailbone Pain?

When most people think of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), they imagine joint pain affecting the wrists...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in your joints and...

Tingling and Numbness: Is It a Side Effect of Methotrexate for RA?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in your joints and...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the immune system attacks...

Scalp Health and RA: How To Manage Burning, Itching, and Hair Loss

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the immune system attacks...
Not only does rheumatoid arthritis (RA) cause painful swelling and inflammation in the joints, it...

Rheumatoid Arthritis Nail Changes: Causes and Treatment

Not only does rheumatoid arthritis (RA) cause painful swelling and inflammation in the joints, it...
Some people living with RA may struggle with hand tremors. Learn the common causes + 4 tips to help you manage hand tremors in rheumatoid arthritis.

Managing Shaking Hands Caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis

Some people living with RA may struggle with hand tremors. Learn the common causes + 4 tips to help you manage hand tremors in rheumatoid arthritis.

Recent articles

Some people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) wonder whether they should wear medical alert...

Medical Alert Bracelets and RA: Do You Need Alert Jewelry?

Some people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) wonder whether they should wear medical alert...
Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) choose to limit or eliminate certain foods from their...

3 Reasons To Avoid Sugar If You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) choose to limit or eliminate certain foods from their...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can become a financial burden with expensive treatments and medical...

Nonprofit Resources for Affording Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can become a financial burden with expensive treatments and medical...
If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have heard about kratom — an herbal supplement...

Kratom for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is It Safe and Can It Help?

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may have heard about kratom — an herbal supplement...
Methotrexate is one of the most commonly prescribed — and most effective — disease-modifying...

How To Manage Mouth Sores From Methotrexate

Methotrexate is one of the most commonly prescribed — and most effective — disease-modifying...
Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) seek to supplement their RA treatment regimens with...

Vitamin B12 Supplements: Are They Safe and Beneficial for RA?

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) seek to supplement their RA treatment regimens with...
myRAteam My rheumatoid arthritis Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close