Hungry but No Appetite With Lupus? 7 Potential Causes | MyLupusTeam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up Log in
Resources
About MyLupusTeam
Powered By

Hungry but No Appetite With Lupus? 7 Potential Causes

Medically reviewed by Zeba Faroqui, M.D.
Posted on July 20, 2023

Lupus can ruin your appetite in various ways. Some MyLupusTeam members find they can’t muster the will to eat — even if they know they’re hungry. “I’ve had this strange feeling the past few weeks. I get hunger pangs, and my body feels hungry, but I have no appetite,” a MyLupusTeam member said. “It’s not that I’m restraining myself from eating. I just don’t feel like I want to eat.”

“I have bouts where I just can’t stand the thought of putting food into my mouth. I have no idea why that happens. It usually lasts a week or two,” another member shared.

If you’ve had similar experiences, you’re not alone. Loss of appetite is a known symptom of lupus — though it also can be caused by other medical conditions, both related and unrelated to lupus — as well as certain medications.

Here are some reasons you may have difficulty wanting to eat, even if your stomach is growling.

1. Peptic Ulcers

Certain medications used to treat lupus flare-ups can be hard on the stomach. Peptic ulcers (sores in the stomach lining) are a common side effect of lupus treatments, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin and ibuprofen, and corticosteroids, such as prednisone.

Symptoms of a peptic ulcer include stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Left untreated, peptic ulcers can cause complications including anemia, the formation of a hole in your stomach wall, or internal bleeding. If you notice you have dark or black stools, you should notify your health care provider right away.

To determine if you have an ulcer, your doctor can perform an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy, which entails using a flexible, narrow tube with a small video camera to look inside your stomach.

Treating a peptic ulcer may involve adjusting your meds, taking medications that reduce or block acid production, or — if the ulcer is caused by a bacterial infection — starting a round of antibiotics.

2. Mouth Issues

Lupus can inflame your gums or cause mouth sores (also called canker sores), symptoms that can make eating certain foods more difficult. But regular dental visits can keep your mouth healthy. Dentists can also suggest numbing solutions to help reduce pain. “Mouth sores are very painful and inhibit eating and drinking,” shared a MyLupusTeam member. “I use an anesthetic agent or numbing agent before I eat.”

Another member said they do a saltwater rinse to help with mouth sores, an at-home technique many health experts recommend. Try dissolving a half teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water, then gargling or swishing the mixture in your mouth for up to 10 seconds before spitting it out.

Some members have shared positive results from taking lysine supplements, a type of amino acid that researchers have found may help with canker sores. Others have found that folic acid supplements improve their mouth sores, which may be because researchers have found that people low in folic acid (as well as vitamin B12 and iron) are more likely to develop canker sores.

Before starting any type of supplement, speak with your rheumatologist. Supplements can cause unwanted side effects or interact poorly with certain medications.

If mouth pain is interfering with your ability to eat, you may find it easier to eat cold or soft foods or to sip meal-replacement protein shakes and smoothies through a straw.

3. Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a stomach condition in which the stomach either is essentially “paralyzed” or empties food too slowly. Health experts aren’t sure what causes gastroparesis, but some believe it has autoimmune underpinnings and may be more common in people with diabetes, mental health issues, and autoimmune disorders like lupus.

Symptoms of gastroparesis that may interfere with your ability or desire to eat include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Feelings of fullness after eating a small amount
  • Lack of appetite

For some people, severe constipation also accompanies gastroparesis.

Some people with gastroparesis avoid heavier foods, like protein-rich meals, and instead favor foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, which are faster to digest. As a result, gastroparesis can lead to unhealthy weight gain and high glucose (blood sugar) levels. Others with the condition eat so little that they experience dramatic, unhealthy weight loss.

To check for gastroparesis, a doctor can perform gastric emptying tests, which measure how quickly the stomach empties its contents. They may also do an upper GI endoscopy or an ultrasound. Treatments for this commonly underdiagnosed issue can include dietary changes (including consuming more easier-to-digest foods), medications, and surgery.

4. Fatigue, Depression, or Anxiety

Sometimes lupus fatigue can make cooking or preparing meals seem like too much work. In addition, depression and anxiety — common symptoms of lupus — can cause a lack of interest in food.

You also may have anxiety about food if you’ve had a history of uncomfortable GI symptoms, which could impair your appetite. “I had issues with diarrhea and stomach pains in November and December, where I wasn’t able to eat much because of pain, discomfort, and bathroom trips almost every time I ate. Could I be having some sort of anxiety toward eating now because of this?” a MyLupusTeam member asked.

Getting enough sleep and regular physical activity are two proactive ways to improve symptoms related to your emotional and mental health. In addition, a mental health counselor can be a great resource and support on your journey with lupus. Ask your doctor for a referral to meet with an expert in person or online who can help.

5. Acid Reflux

If you have symptoms like heartburn, vomiting, or chronic coughing, you may be experiencing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux. With this condition, your stomach acid continually flows back into your esophagus, which can irritate its lining. Lupus can raise your risk of acid reflux by causing inflammation of the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow food and keep it down.

Other symptoms of GERD include:

  • Heartburn
  • Food or sour liquid moving backward into your mouth
  • Pain in your chest or upper abdomen
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat

Understandably, you may be less willing to eat when you know the consequences will be painful and unpleasant. It’s important to seek treatment for acid reflux to avoid long-term damage to your throat and to improve your quality of life. Treatment options include over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, surgery, and other procedures.

6. Inflammation or Infections

Lupus and some of its treatments can cause inflammation affecting different parts of the body, including:

  • Peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining)
  • Vasculitis (inflammation of the intestinal blood vessels)
  • Lupus enteritis (inflammation of the bowel wall)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Additionally, lupus can cause infections, as can certain treatments such as steroids and immunosuppressive drugs like azathioprine (Imuran).

These conditions can cause nausea and abdominal pain, which in turn may make you less interested in eating. Your doctor can help diagnose any underlying inflammatory diseases or infections and work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

7. Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten is a protein found in wheat. It’s also used as an ingredient to thicken foods like soups and sauces or create desired textures. Some people have adverse reactions to consuming gluten. This includes people living with celiac disease, who experience an autoimmune reaction to the protein that can damage their intestines and cause digestive problems, including reduced appetite and weight loss.

Some research suggests that people with other autoimmune diseases — including lupus — may be sensitive to foods that contain gluten, which is called nonceliac gluten sensitivity.

Currently, no single test is available to determine gluten sensitivity. If you suspect that gluten is upsetting your stomach, you can work with a registered dietitian nutritionist or gastroenterologist to temporarily eliminate it and track your symptoms.

Strategies To Manage a Poor Appetite

Having a poor appetite sometimes is OK, but when it starts affecting your ability to enjoy meals, get enough nutrients, or maintain a healthy weight, it’s time to seek treatment. Some MyLupusTeam members have found ways to ride the waves of their appetite, such as having lighter meals when they’re less interested in food. “Whenever I have a loss of appetite, I eat yogurt with fruit,” a MyLupusTeam member said.

It’s important to share symptoms like appetite changes with a health care professional to determine if you need additional testing, medication, or other treatments. Addressing the root of the problem may help you get your appetite back. You can also try eating smaller, more frequent meals and focusing on nutrient-dense foods that give you the most bang for your buck, rather than filling up on less-nutritious choices.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLupusTeam is the social network for people with lupus and their loved ones. On MyLupusTeam, over 223,000 people with lupus come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories.

Do you experience a loss of appetite or other common symptoms that affect your eating habits? What are your strategies for maintaining a healthy diet with lupus? Post your thoughts in the comments below or on your Activities feed.

Posted on July 20, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

We'd love to hear from you! Please share your name and email to post and read comments.

You'll also get the latest articles directly to your inbox.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Zeba Faroqui, M.D. earned her medical degree from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Learn more about her here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

Related Articles

“I seem to get swelling in my lower lip with lupus flares,” wrote one member of MyLupusTeam. “We’...

Is Lip Swelling a Symptom of Lupus?

“I seem to get swelling in my lower lip with lupus flares,” wrote one member of MyLupusTeam. “We’...
Mouth sores and nose sores, sometimes called ulcers, are common symptoms of systemic lupus erythe...

Mouth and Nose Sores in Lupus: Causes and Treatments

Mouth sores and nose sores, sometimes called ulcers, are common symptoms of systemic lupus erythe...
When people are diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, often simply referred to as lup...

What Do Lupus Fingernails Look Like? 5 Ways To Manage Symptoms

When people are diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, often simply referred to as lup...
Excessive sweating, overheating, hot flashes, and changes in body temperature are common symptoms...

Excessive Sweating and Lupus: Night Sweats, Hot Flashes, and More

Excessive sweating, overheating, hot flashes, and changes in body temperature are common symptoms...
Most people living with lupus are aware of the common symptoms of this condition, but unexpected ...

5 Signs of SLE Complications: Fluttering Heartbeat, Kidney Problems, and More

Most people living with lupus are aware of the common symptoms of this condition, but unexpected ...
Angular cheilitis and lupus rash are distinct skin issues with noticeable differences. While lupu...

Angular Cheilitis vs. Lupus Rash: 4 Differences To Note

Angular cheilitis and lupus rash are distinct skin issues with noticeable differences. While lupu...

Recent Articles

MyHealthTeam does not provide health services, and if you need help, we’d strongly encourage you ...

Crisis Resources

MyHealthTeam does not provide health services, and if you need help, we’d strongly encourage you ...
Welcome to MyLupusTeam — the place to connect with others living with lupus. This video will wal...

Getting Started on MyLupusTeam (VIDEO)

Welcome to MyLupusTeam — the place to connect with others living with lupus. This video will wal...
Living with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus, can be expensive. ...

6 Ways To Save Money With Lupus: Insurance, Medication, Housing, and More

Living with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus, can be expensive. ...
Shannon Boxx is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a World Cup champion with the U.S. Women’...

Lupus Fatigue: 3 Tips for Energy From Soccer Pro Shannon Boxx (VIDEO)

Shannon Boxx is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a World Cup champion with the U.S. Women’...
Are you unsure how to manage your lupus symptoms? Do you feel nervous about treatment options? Li...

4 Expert Tips for Finding and Talking to a Lupus Doctor

Are you unsure how to manage your lupus symptoms? Do you feel nervous about treatment options? Li...
Race and other factors, including sex and age, can affect the health outcomes of people in the Un...

Is Lupus More Common in Certain Races? 3 Risk Factors To Know

Race and other factors, including sex and age, can affect the health outcomes of people in the Un...
MyLupusTeam My lupus Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close