Unexplained weight loss can have many causes, most of which are related to health problems. Either way, this is an important sign that shouldn’t be overlooked and that warrants prompt medical consultation.
Nowadays, bodyweight has many aesthetic and social connotations. For this reason, the first thing you need to make sure of is that you indeed suffered unexplained weight loss. Sometimes, there’s simply a change in body image perception.
In this regard, Dr. Xavier Bosch from the Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital Clínic, University of Barcelona, points out that up to 50% of patients who consult for unexplained weight loss haven’t actually lost weight.
However, if you really did lose weight, there are several possible causes.
Unexplained weight loss
Unexplained weight loss is often a sign of systemic disease. However, before we continue, we need to establish the parameters of what significant or clinically relevant weight loss means.
It isn’t easy to establish when weight loss is cause for concern. However, there’s almost absolute medical consensus on one particular parameter. Any 5% loss of body mass, in a period of between six and 12 months, should be a reason for medical consultation.
Therefore, the important thing isn’t how many pounds were lost but what percentage of total body mass they represent. Thus, a person who weighs 220 pounds must suspect that something is wrong if they lose 11 pounds in six to 12 months. However, a person who weighs 110 pounds should see their doctor if they lose 5.5 pounds.
Although this fact may seem obvious, it’s important to point it out: weight loss must be involuntary. In other words, you should worry if the weight loss occurred on its own, without you having done anything specific.
There are many causes of unexplained weight loss. In 75% of cases, it’s possible to identify the cause. People usually lose weight because they ingest fewer calories than they need or because they’re suffering from a disorder that prevents their bodies from absorbing nutrients properly. Sometimes, it’s due to both.
It’s very common for these unexplained weight losses to be the result of depression. It’s very important to analyze whether the person was mourning or suffering due to a death, divorce, or some traumatic event before they lost weight.
Weight loss is one of the first symptoms of some diseases. This is the case of digestive system tumors, infectious diseases such as HIV, endocarditis, tuberculosis, and fungal or parasitic diseases.
Weight loss is common in hyperthyroidism or pheochromocytoma, diabetes mellitus, and adrenal insufficiency. Although several types of cancer are associated with weight loss, in these cases, the patient will suffer other symptoms, as well.
Age and weight loss
Age is a relevant factor when analyzing the causes and consequences of weight loss. This occurs in certain specific stages or circumstances:
- Newborn babies. It isn’t uncommon for babies to lose up to 10% of their body weight during their first 15 days of life. This is because they expel fluids through feces or urine. From then on, babies are expected to gain half a pound per week until they’re six months old.
- Older people. Weight loss is a normal part of the aging process, as long as it occurs gradually. Loss of muscle and bone mass is also normal. But sudden explained weight loss is a sign of health problems.
- We should also note that, many times, weight is lost during pregnancy. This occurs in mothers who get dizzy and vomit during the first trimester and, therefore, can’t maintain an adequate diet. These patients need to check with their doctor.
Emotional stress is also a common cause of weight loss. High cortisol levels and eating at unearthly hours lead to this. Likewise, compulsive use of psychoactive drugs can influence weight.
What to do if you detect unexplained weight loss
If you detect that you lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time, and you realize that there are bodily functioning alterations, you should consult a doctor. A health professional will know the steps to follow to detect the cause and address the problem.