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When weight loss is unintentional

Unintended sudden or extreme weight loss is not good for one’s health. This can lead to feeling weak, having less energy and being less able to cope with illness.



Most people are concerned about losing weight, and it can be difficult to shed even just a few pounds. But when the weight starts coming off without even trying, this can be a cause for concern.
Unintentional weight loss is often referred to as involuntary or unintended weight loss, in a person who does not have any condition that can lead to weight loss.

Some patients are usually told by their family and friends that they appear to be losing weight. It may not be apparent until they notice that their clothes are looser or they have jewelry like rings that can fall off.

Unintended sudden or extreme weight loss is not good for one’s health. This can lead to feeling weak, having less energy and being less able to cope with illness.

photograph courtesy of unsplash/ashkan forouzani
ABDOMINAL pain can be a symptom of weight loss.

It is also related to an increased risk of death, regardless of any other underlying disease. Unintentional weight loss is also associated with an increased risk of weak bones and bone fractures.

When considering weight loss, it is important to record weight loss accurately with the use of a reliable weighing scale. The weight loss may be perceived as significant but the scale may say otherwise. Only about 50 percent of patients reporting weight loss have true weight loss. It becomes a medical concern when there is a loss of more than five percent of a person’s usual body weight over six to 12 months.

There is an extensive list on the causes of weight loss, and your doctor will work with you to determine what that cause may be. This will involve a thorough history of any previous illnesses, family history, intake of medications, eating habits and level of physical activity, smoking history and alcohol intake.

You will also be asked about signs and symptoms that may point toward the cause, which include:

• Night sweats
• Fevers
• Difficulty swallowing
• Abdominal pain
• Easily feeling full or bloated
• Nausea and vomiting
• Constipation or diarrhea
• Blood in your stool or urine

You will also undergo a physical examination and basic laboratory testing. Some patients sometimes already go ahead and get cancer marker tests done, which are blood tests that can indicate the possibility of having certain cancers. These tests, as well as premature imaging scans like X-rays or a CT scan to look for hidden cancers, are not usually helpful unless some other clues point in that direction. These should only be done upon the advice of your doctor. Some tests may show false-positive results and can become a cause of undue anxiety and unnecessary further testing.

While many are afraid the cause of their weight loss is due to cancer, there are many other causes for unintentional weight loss. These include problems with digestion, heart failure, kidney disease, infection, hormonal imbalance and intake of certain medications. Patients with dementia may also have poor nutrition and food intake. It may also be as simple as poor dentition and a visit to the dentist or a change in the consistency of food that can help solve the problem.

Conditions that affect your mood and emotional mindset, such as depression, can also cause physical symptoms like unusual stomach and digestive issues or changes in your appetite. This can also lead to unintended weight loss.

Despite an appropriate initial evaluation, a clear cause for weight loss may not be found. If no abnormality is identified after initial testing, watchful waiting for one to six months is a reasonable next step. Waiting is preferable to having a battery of tests done which is not only costly but may not even show any significant results.

During this time, attention should be paid to changes in diet, accurate records of weight, and any new symptoms that may appear. If the weight loss continues, follow-up with your doctor sooner. Further testing may be done and you may need a special diet to prevent further weight loss or to regain lost pounds.