Living with a chronic illness is both mentally and physically exhausting. Managing the seemingly endless symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, muscle pain, and headaches can seem like enough work for a lifetime. These symptoms are considered as being “common” for those with pulmonary hypertension. What is not often mentioned are the fluctuations in weight.
Different factors contribute to weight gain or loss for someone living with chronic illness. Pulmonary hypertension, along with my other conditions, demands a lot of physical energy from my body. Decreased lung function and an increased heart rate keep me in “fat burn” mode most of the day, even without the strenuous exercise. To keep up with the physical needs of my body, I need to feed my body with enough nutrients to sustain my energy.
On a good day, eating five small meals doesn’t seem very difficult. However, on the days when I am struggling, or the weeks when I have an acute illness, eating even three small meals is a chore. Eating should be something that’s enjoyable, but lately, it takes a lot of effort to make food, eat food, and digest it properly. Some days, I just don’t have the energy to spare. And when I’m sick and trying to recover, this is when my body needs the nutrients the most.
When I lose weight, I don’t feel well physically or mentally. I experience an increase in fatigue and muscle pain and my energy levels take a few weeks to return to my “normal.” My mental health suffers. I become angry and easily agitated, and I feel depressed by the lack of energy. I am unable to focus or distract myself from my physical symptoms.
Pulmonary hypertension also leads to a swing to the opposite end of the scales. While I do have periods of weight loss with my illness, I also experience uncomfortable weight gain. I have been struggling recently with weight gain caused by fluid retention. This is usually temporary, but it makes me feel uncomfortable, bloated, and distended. I experience stomach pain, cramping, and pain in my legs, feet, arms, and hands. The extra 5 pounds that I gain in a day from fluid retention make it even more difficult to breathe, and it makes me feel like I’m drowning.
Weight gain affects my overall body image. When I see the numbers increase on the scales, I become anxious and question if I will ever return to my baseline. I feel terrible about the way I look and struggle with confidence.
Weight gain or loss contributes to physical discomfort and has an impact on mental health. While fluctuations in weight happen to everyone, for those of us living with pulmonary hypertension or chronic illness, weight gain or loss can seem to be beyond our control. Whether it be from an illness, increase in symptoms, fluid retention, or a side effect from medication, there’s not much we can do to prevent this fluctuation. When living with an illness that requires so much energy to manage, the extra weight or decrease in weight makes a big difference in how we feel physically and emotionally.
Have you noticed weight fluctuations while managing pulmonary hypertension? Do you experience both physical and mental symptoms when the fluctuation occurs? Become part of the conversation and follow the link to the forum to comment on this topic.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.