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Unexplained Weight Loss – Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

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A noticeable loss in body weight when a person is not trying to lose weight can be described as unexplained weight loss. It can be a symptom of an underlying illness or just an indication that one is not eating enough. It is quite normal for your weight to fluctuate throughout the year. One tends to gain weight during holidays and lose weight under stressful conditions, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. Typically, people above 65 experience unexplained weight loss. But even then, a loss of more than 5-6 kgs within a short span is of significant concern.

What is Unexplained Weight Loss?

Weight loss of more than 5-10% of your body weight within 6 months can be referred to as ‘unexplained weight loss’. It is a red flag if there is no explanation for this sudden weight loss, like a change in diet or physical activity. It might be a symptom related to a developing illness or a medical condition. It is important to seek medical attention in such conditions.

Accompanying Symptoms

Unexplained weight loss is a symptom in itself and can be accompanied by the following symptoms

Causes of Unexplained Weight Loss

  1. Overactive Thyroid- Usually, this condition causes sleeping problems, heart palpitations, and feeling hot all the time. The thyroid regulates the metabolism of your body. Thus, an overactive thyroid can cause the burning of more calories, leading to weight loss.
  2. Not eating enough- As one grows, physical activity decreases and lifestyle turns more sedentary, and our metabolism slows down, making us feel fuller for a longer period. Also, with aging, the brain center that controls appetite and satiety becomes weak.
  3. Depression- People struggling with depression lose their appetite as the level of the hormones that regulate glucose level, blood pressure, metabolism, etc., are reduced. 
  4. Anxiety- Anxious people have high levels of the cortisol hormone that affects their appetite. Thus, they don’t feel hungry and lose weight. Hence, when people face challenging situations in life, they lose weight. 
  5. Celiac disease  An autoimmune disease in which the body damages the small intestine when gluten is ingested, leading to bloating and diarrhea accompanied by weight loss.
  6. Addison’s disease- This is also an autoimmune disease, although rare, but causes weight loss. In this condition, the body harms the adrenal gland and prevents it from producing any hormone, which affects your appetite and metabolism.
  7. Rheumatoid arthritis This is another autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the healthy tissues, causing inflammation and infection. This further affects the gut metabolism and causes weight loss.
  8. Inflammatory bowel diseases- GI diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause inflammation in the GI tract reducing its ability to digest, leading to diarrhea and weight loss. 
  9. Pancreatitis- The pancreas helps digest the food by releasing different enzymes. Inflammation of the pancreas reduces its ability, leading to weight loss.
  10. Diabetes- In diabetes, the body loses its ability to absorb glucose and other nutrients. Thus, all the nutrients from food are excreted, causing you to lose weight suddenly.
  11. Muscle atrophyThis is also called muscle loss, a condition where the muscles waste away or shrink. This usually happens if a person is malnourished or bedridden. 
  12. Cancer- Human cells abnormally mutate and multiply quickly and affect healthy tissues and organs in this condition. Depending on the size and stage at which the cancer is, it causes weight loss.
  13. Dysphagia- People who have trouble swallowing are called dysphagic. In such conditions, the person avoids solid food, which is difficult to swallow. It can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. 
  14.  Drug Abuse, Tuberculosis infection , Endocarditis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are other causes of weght loss .

When to See a Doctor for Weight Loss?

If you lose more than 5-6 kgs of weight without trying within 6 months, you should see a doctor, especially if you have other symptoms like tremor, diarrhea, a low-grade fever, abdominal pain, etc. Your healthcare provider will help you find the underlying cause for unexplained weight loss. The doctor will advise you to take certain blood tests to determine your hormone levels and the root cause of your unintentional weight loss.

How to Prevent Unexplained Weight Loss?

The most common cause of unintentional weight loss is an imbalanced diet. One does not realize that he/she is eating less than the quantity required by their body, or he/she is exercising more than what is required by their body. Given below are some tips to prevent weight loss.

  • Keep a food journal- Record your meals. This way, you will know if you had a balanced meal.
  • Routine- Maintain a routine. Keep a tab on your physical activity. Are you working out more than required?
  • Stress management- A rollercoaster of emotions causes you to lose weight. Practice meditation. Eat mindfully.
  • Digestive system- If your gut is malfunctioning , you will not be able to absorb the nutrients from your food.

Risk Factors Associated with Weight Loss

If not treated or paid attention to, it can lead to anemia, muscle atrophy, or even heart disease. Thus, always keep a check on your weight.

How is Unintentional Weight Loss Treated?

Unintentional weight loss can be treated by identifying the cause of weight loss (the illness or medical condition causing this sudden weight loss). If there is no cause found, the person will be recommended a special diet and workout plan by a nutritionist or dietician

Unexplained weight loss can occur because of many reasons. It can range from inflammatory to psychological conditions. Thus, it is important for a person to undergo routine checkups every 6 months where one’s health status can be monitored. These routine checkups make people more conscious about their being and help avoid potential medical conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much weight loss is considered reasonable? When should I approach a doctor after weight loss begins?

If you have lost more than 10% of your body weight in the last 6 months, consult your healthcare provider and discuss additional symptoms. The doctor will try to find the underlying cause of your weight loss.

Why do I have diarrhoea and abdominal pain along with weight loss?

If you experience diarrhea and abdominal pain, your weight loss might be related to GI disturbances and needs to be treated by a medical professional.

Why am I experiencing weight loss with increased thirst, and urinating more than usual?

These can be the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, causing weight loss. Consult a medical professional to bring your sugar levels to normal. It will help you maintain your weight.

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At Apollo, we believe that easily accessible, reliable health information can make managing health conditions an empowering experience. AskApollo Online Health Library team consists of medical experts who create curated peer-reviewed medical content that is regularly updated and is easy-to-understand.
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