Unexplained weight loss or weight loss without trying can be a cause for concern. It could indicate a basic condition.
A basic rule of thumb is to consult your doctor if you have lost a significant amount – more than 5 percent of your weight – within 6 to 12 months. In addition, consider any other symptoms to discuss with your doctor.
Remember, not every weight loss is serious. It can happen after a life-changing or stressful event. However, unintentional weight loss may be a sign of one of these medical conditions.
Muscle loss or muscle loss can lead to unexpected weight loss. The major symptom is muscle weakness. One of your limbs may even look smaller than the other.
Your body is made up of fat and fat-free mass, which includes muscle, bone and water. If you lose muscle, you will lose weight.
This can happen if you do not use your muscles for a while. It is most common in people who do not exercise, do not work in the office or are immobilized in bed. In general, exercise and proper nutrition will reverse muscle loss.
Other possible causes of muscle loss include:
Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid develops when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. These hormones control many functions in the body, including metabolism.
If your thyroid is hyperactive, you will burn calories fast even if you have a good appetite. The result can be an unintentional weight loss.
Other symptoms include:
- fast, irregular heartbeat
- heat intolerance
- sleeping disorders
- trembling hands
- mild menstruation in women
Possible causes of hyperthyroidism include:
The treatment of hyperthyroidism depends on your age and the severity of your case. It is usually treated with antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, beta-blockers or surgery.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the lining of the joints, leading to inflammation. Chronic inflammation can speed up your metabolism and reduce your overall weight.
Symptoms of RA include swelling and joint pain. It usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body. If you have RA, your joints may feel stiff if you do not move for an hour or more.
The exact cause of RA is unknown. May be related to:
- hormonal changes
- passive smoking
RA treatment usually begins with medication. Medications include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, corticosteroids, biologics, and Janus-associated kinase inhibitors.
Another cause of unwanted weight loss is type 1 diabetes. If you have type 1 diabetes, your immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. Without insulin, your body cannot use glucose for energy. This causes your blood sugar to rise.
Your kidneys excrete unused glucose in the urine. Just as sugar leaves your body, so do your calories.
Type 1 diabetes also causes:
- Frequent urination
- blurry vision
- excessive thirst
- excessive hunger
Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes insulin, blood sugar monitoring, dietary changes, and exercise.
Weight loss can be a side effect of depression, which is defined as feeling sad, lost, or empty for at least two weeks. These emotions interfere with daily activities, such as going to work or school.
Depression affects the same parts of the brain that control appetite. This can lead to a low appetite and eventually to weight loss.
In some people, depression can increase appetite. Symptoms vary from person to person. Other symptoms of depression include:
- constant sadness
- loss of interest in hobbies
- low energy
- poor concentration
- you sleep too little or too much
- thoughts of death or suicide
Behavioral therapy, psychotherapy and antidepressants are used to treat depression.
Unexpected weight loss may be a symptom of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a term that encompasses several chronic inflammatory disorders of the digestive tract. The two most common types are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Chronic inflammation of IBD puts your body in a catabolic state, which means that it is constantly consuming energy.
IBD also disrupts ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and leptin, the satiety hormone. This leads to decreased appetite and weight loss.
Additional symptoms include:
- stomach ache
- bloody stools
These symptoms are triggered by certain foods. If you have IBD, you may be reluctant to eat. IBD treatment usually consists of nutritional support, medication, and in some cases surgery.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease. This includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Many people with COPD have both.
Emphysema slowly damages the air sacs in the lungs, making breathing difficult. Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation of the airways that bring air into the lungs. This causes mucus, coughing and shortness of breath.
Early COPD is mild. Some people may have no symptoms, but those that may occur include:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pressure
- mild cough, with or without mucus
In later stages, COPD can cause weight loss. Heavy breathing burns a lot of calories. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a person with COPD may need 10 times more calories to breathe than a person without COPD. You may also feel uncomfortable eating and breathing at the same time.
Severe COPD symptoms also include:
- swelling of the feet, ankles or feet
- low muscular endurance
The main cause of COPD is smoking. Long-term exposure to irritants, such as air pollution and dust, can also lead to COPD. Treatment includes medications such as bronchodilators and lung therapies, such as oxygen therapy.
Endocarditis causes inflammation of the inner lining of the heart or endocardium. It develops when germs – usually bacteria – enter the bloodstream and gather in your heart.
Most people with endocarditis have a fever. This can come with a low appetite. Elevated body temperature also increases metabolism and burns fat, causing weight loss.
Other symptoms include:
- heart murmur
- cough, with or without blood
- abdominal pain
- chest pain
- difficult breathing
- night sweats
- back pain
- red or purple spots on the skin
Endocarditis is rare in healthy hearts. It is more likely to affect people with damaged heart valves, artificial heart valves or congenital heart defects. Treatment for endocarditis includes antibiotics and surgery.
Another unexplained cause of weight loss is tuberculosis (TB), a contagious condition that usually affects the lungs. It is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. Weight loss and loss of appetite are major symptoms of tuberculosis, but the reasons are not fully understood.
TB spreads through the air. You can get tuberculosis without getting sick. If your immune system can fight it, the bacteria will become inactive. This is called latent TB.
Over time, it can turn into active TB. Symptoms include:
- bad cough lasting 3 weeks or more
- chest pain
- coughing up blood or phlegm
- night sweats
Some people are at risk for active tuberculosis. This includes people with weak immune systems, especially those who have:
- low body weight
- substance use disorder
- Hodgkin’s disease
- organ transplant
TB is usually treated with a course of antibiotics for six to nine months.
Cancer is the general term for diseases that cause the abnormal division and spread of abnormal cells. According to the American Cancer Society, one of the first signs may be an unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more. This is common in cancers of the pancreas, lung, stomach and esophagus.
Cancer increases inflammation. This promotes muscle loss and disrupts the hormones that regulate appetite. A growing tumor can also increase the cost of energy at rest (REE) or how much energy the body burns at rest.
Early symptoms of cancer also include:
- skin changes
Many conditions can cause these symptoms. Sometimes cancer does not cause any symptoms.
Treatment depends on the type of cancer. Typical treatments include: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Addison’s disease develops when the immune system attacks the adrenal glands. In turn, the adrenal glands cannot produce enough hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol regulates many functions, including metabolism and appetite. Low cortisol levels can lead to decreased appetite and weight loss.
Other symptoms of Addison’s disease include:
- low blood pressure
- chronic fatigue
- muscle weakness
- cravings for salt
Addison’s disease is rare, affecting about 1 in 100,000 people in the United States. Treatment includes medications that will regulate your adrenal gland.
12. HIV | HIV
HIV attacks immune cells called T cells. This makes it difficult to fight infections. If left untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Advanced forms of these conditions often cause weight loss.
Symptoms such as sore throat, sores in the mouth and fatigue can make eating uncomfortable. HIV also increases the risk of secondary infections, which increase REE.
Other symptoms of HIV include:
- skin rash
- night sweats
- Swollen lymph nodes
- muscle pain
The symptoms of HIV depend on the person and the stage of the infection. Antiretroviral therapy is used to treat HIV and stop the spread of the virus and can improve weight loss.
Weight loss is a complication of congestive heart failure (CHF). ICC develops when the heart cannot fill with enough blood, the heart cannot pump blood with enough force, or both. It can affect one or both sides of the heart.
If you have CHF, your digestive system may not be getting enough blood. This can lead to nausea and early fullness. In addition, it may be difficult to breathe while eating.
Inflammation of damaged heart tissue also speeds up metabolism, causing unintentional weight loss.
CHF symptoms also include:
- difficulty breathing
- persistent cough
- fast heart rate
There are several medications used to treat CHF, including angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretics. In some cases, surgery may be required.
Compared to women, men have a higher rate of:
Women are at higher risk for COPD. Women are too
It is normal for body weight to fluctuate. However, if you lose weight without changing your habits, something else might happen.
If you have a 5% weight loss in 6 to 12 months or if you notice any of the above symptoms, see your doctor.