Summary Objective To determine the economic loss in terms of treatment costs and loss of productive time because of acute episodes of adenolymphangitis (ADL) caused by lymphatic filariasis (LF) in a rural population of coastal Orissa, India. Methods Data on expenditure on treatment and loss of work along with other epidemiological information were collected through a 1-year surveillance of 113 acute episodes of ADL from 72 individuals of the study population (5.42%). The activity patterns of patients for 24 h of one episode were documented, and data on age- and sex-matched controls were also collected. Standardized Z-test, paired t-test, logistic and multiple regressions were used. Results Those patients who did incur expenses spent Indian Rupees 92 on average (approximately US$ 1.85) on each episode. The ADL episodes curtailed the productive activity of patients. Patients (88%) were unable to attend to any economic activity compared with 47% of controls who had no history of disease. Similarly during 55% of episodes, females (vs. 8% of controls) could not attend to any domestic work. The mean number of hours spent on economic or domestic activities was significantly lower among patients. Disease status and sex had significant influence on total absenteeism from gainful employment; and similarly, age, family type and disease status influenced total domestic work hours among women. Conclusions The results demonstrate the extent of the economic burden caused by acute LF and provide justification for strengthening the ongoing LF elimination programme.