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What is Unintentional Weight Loss?

Weight loss normally occurs due to the burning of calories from energy expenditure or a decreased calorie intake. Unintentional weight loss is loss of weight that comes without exercise or a change in diet or routine. It can be a symptom of an illness or serious medical condition and needs to be evaluated by a medical professional.

Causes of Unintentional Weight Loss

Unintentional weight loss may be due to factors that range from mild to serious. Some common causes include:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Addison’s disease
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Medications
  • Smoking
  • Kidney disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Malnutrition
  • AIDS

Symptoms of Unintentional Weight Loss

Common symptoms associated with unintentional weight loss include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness and loss of muscle mass
  • Increased incidence of infections
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Headache

Diagnosis of Unintentional Weight Loss

Unintentional loss of more than 5% of your weight within 6 to 12 months is a cause for concern and should be evaluated. Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and perform a physical examination. A psychiatric evaluation may also be recommended. The following diagnostic tests may be performed:

  • Complete blood count: This test can determine the presence of infection and anemia.
  • Thyroid panel: These are blood tests to determine thyroid function. They measure the level of thyroid hormone production as well as the level of hormones influencing the thyroid (thyroid-stimulating hormones).
  • Liver function tests: These are tests to help diagnose liver disease and monitor liver function.
  • Blood sugar test: This test will help to analyze your blood glucose level to check for diabetes.
  • Urinalysis: Your urine is analyzed to detect the presence of any pus, blood cells, or other substances indicating infection, kidney disease, or other disorders.
  • Imaging tests: To help diagnose conditions such as cancer.
  • Endoscopy: Insertion of an illuminated tube connected to a tiny camera into the body to examine the gastrointestinal tract

Other tests may be performed depending on the condition being diagnosed.

Treatment for Unintentional Weight Loss

Treatment for unintentional weight loss is mainly based on the root cause. Some common therapeutic measures include:

  • Medication: Depending on the underlying condition, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat hormonal imbalances, infections, diabetes, and lack of appetite.
  • You may receive treatment for digestive disorders.
  • Diet: Your doctor may advise you to include nutritional supplements and flavor enhancers in your diet to help you gain weight.
  • Palliative care: This is reserved for weight loss due to cancer.
  • Behavioral modification and counseling: This is intended for individuals suffering from depression, stress, or eating disorders.
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  • American College of Physicians
  • Andrews Research & Education Foundation
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • JJM Medical College