COVID-19 and Weight Loss
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID-19 can cause weight loss due to reduced appetite, gastrointestinal symptoms, increased metabolism, and stress.
- The extent of weight loss varies based on the severity of the infection and an individual's health.
- Seek medical attention if weight loss is rapid, persistent after recovery, or accompanied by concerning symptoms.
- To regain weight after COVID-19, focus on a balanced diet, hydration, gradual exercise, and professional guidance.
While some people experienced weight gain during the initial periods of lockdown, which reduced physical activity, other patients infected with COVID-19 dealt with unintended and significant weight loss. In this article, we’ll explore the link between COVID-19 and weight loss, its causes, the typical amount of weight loss observed, when to be concerned about it, and how to regain weight post-infection.
What Causes COVID-19 Weight Loss?
- Loss of taste and smell. One of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 is a loss of taste and smell. This can significantly impact an individual's desire to eat, ultimately leading to a reduced caloric intake.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms. COVID-19 can cause stomach aches and other GI issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms can lead to dehydration and further weight loss due to fluid and nutrient loss.
- Metabolic changes. The viral infection itself triggers an immune response, leading to a higher metabolic rate. This increased metabolism can lead to a higher demand for energy, resulting in weight loss if the individual cannot consume sufficient calories.
- Being constipated. Constipation can impact one's appetite due to factors such as distension and discomfort in the abdomen, slowed digestive transit leading to prolonged feelings of fullness, altered gut hormones, nutrient absorption issues, and potential disruptions to the gut microbiota, all of which can contribute to appetite fluctuations (find here more information about COVID-19 and constipation).
- Stress and anxiety. The stress and anxiety associated with COVID-19 can affect an individual's eating habits and lead to unintentional weight loss.
What are the signs of COVID-19 weight loss?
One of the primary reasons why weight loss might be overlooked during COVID-19 infection is its gradual onset. As a result, it’s essential to pay attention to certain signs of COVID-19 weight loss.3
- Loss of appetite. A diminished appetite is one of the most common indicators of weight loss during COVID-19. Infected individuals may experience a reduced desire to eat or find themselves not consuming their usual portion sizes.
- Loose-fitting clothes and accessories. As weight diminishes, clothes and rings may start to fit more loosely than before. People might notice their belts tightening an extra notch or their favorite rings sliding off their fingers with greater ease, indicating a potential reduction in body mass.
- Poorly fitting dentures. Weight loss can lead to changes in facial structure, including the jawline, which can impact the fit of dentures.
- Fatigue and lack of energy. Weight loss, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms, can lead to a general feeling of tiredness and decreased energy levels. This exhaustion may further impact an individual's daily activities and overall quality of life.
- Difficulty concentrating. As the body changes due to weight loss, individuals might experience difficulty concentrating or mental fogginess. This cognitive impact can affect work performance, academic achievements, and overall mental well-being.
What is the typical amount of COVID-19 weight loss?
The amount of weight loss experienced by COVID-19 patients can vary widely depending on various factors, including the severity of the infection and the individual's overall health. In milder cases, you may not experience any weight loss, or it may be minimal. However, in more severe cases or prolonged illnesses, weight loss can be substantial. Research indicates that even moderate cases of COVID-19 can lead to a loss of greater than 5% of baseline body weight.6
What type of complications are related to COVID-19 weight loss?
- Muscle loss
- Weakness or fatigue
- Elevated C-reactive protein levels, indicating inflammation
- Prolonged disease duration
- Impaired kidney function
How can you regain weight after COVID-19?
For individuals who have experienced weight loss due to COVID-19, regaining weight healthily and sustainably is vital for a full recovery.
- Balanced diet. Focus on consuming a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients. Incorporate lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats to promote weight gain.
- Frequent, smaller meals. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can be easier on the digestive system and help increase caloric intake.
- Stay hydrated. Ensure adequate hydration to avoid further complications and support nutrient absorption.
- Exercise gradually. Gradually incorporate light exercises to rebuild strength and muscle mass as recovery progresses.
- Seek professional guidance. Consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to develop a personalized plan for healthy weight gain.
If you continue to experience a decrease in appetite impacting your weight, your doctor may prescribe you some appetite stimulants.
In conclusion, the relationship between COVID-19 and weight loss is a significant aspect of the virus's impact on the human body. By recognizing the causes of weight loss and adopting appropriate measures for recovery, we can ensure that individuals who have experienced this symptom can regain their health and well-being. As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, further research will undoubtedly shed more light on the intricacies of COVID-19 and its effects on the human body.
Q: Why am I losing weight during my COVID-19 infection?
A: Weight loss while being sick with COVID-19 can occur due to various factors, including reduced appetite, gastrointestinal symptoms, increased metabolism, and the stress and anxiety associated with the illness. These factors can lead to a decrease in caloric intake and contribute to unintended weight loss during the infection.
Q: When should I be worried about COVID-19 weight loss?
A: In some cases, weight loss during a COVID-19 infection or any illness is normal. However, if you or a loved one experiences rapid and significant weight loss, persistent weight loss after recovery, or weight loss accompanied by severe fatigue or fever, it's important to seek medical attention promptly.
Q: What gastrointestinal symptoms associated with COVID-19 may lead to weight loss?
A: Gastrointestinal symptoms associated with COVID-19 that may lead to weight loss include stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms can cause dehydration and result in fluid and nutrient loss, contributing to unintended weight loss during the infection.
Q: How do stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 impact eating habits and weight?
A: Stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 can lead to changes in eating habits and weight. Some people may overeat to cope emotionally, while others may experience reduced appetite and weight loss. Disrupted eating schedules, unhealthy food choices, and lack of physical activity are also common effects of stress and anxiety.