What causes unintentional weight loss? 74 possible conditions

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What Is Unintentional Weight Loss?

Unintentional weight loss is the process of losing weight without dieting or increasing physical activity. It may occur following a loss of appetite or when you are consuming the same amount of calories as usual. Either way, it is usually cause for concern.

Unintentional weight loss can be extremely distressing, particularly when you lose a relatively significant amount and don’t know why. Unintentional weight loss could be a sign of serious illness or disease, or something as minor as a stomach virus.

Unintentional weight loss is most prevalent in people with preexisting medical conditions. Some people who experience this symptom suffer from a variety of diseases including diabetes, AIDS, and depression.

What Causes Unintentional Weight Loss?

Unintentional weight loss is normally the result of an underlying chronic medical condition. However, short-term illnesses such as influenza or the common cold can also cause weight loss due to abdominal discomfort.

Common causes of unintentional weight loss include:

  • depression
  • diarrhea
  • oral ulcers
  • viral infections, such as the common cold, that can affect appetite

Other causes of unintentional weight loss include:

  • cancer
  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
  • hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • abdominal infection
  • gastroenteritis
  • malnutrition
  • dementia
  • Celiac disease
  • HIV/AIDS

Malnutrition occurs when you aren’t consuming a proper amount of nutrients. Malnutrition normally occurs as a symptom of a digestive disorder such as Celiac disease, which affects how the body absorbs nutrients, and can result in weight loss.

What Are the Symptoms of Unintentional Weight Loss?

Depending on what caused the weight loss, symptoms vary widely. The weight loss may be in one part of your body, or distributed all over. You may notice your waist, abdominal region, or arms and legs getting smaller. However, some people are unaware that they’ve lost weight until they weigh themselves.

Unintentional weight loss due to an illness may occur along with these symptoms:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal discomfort
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

Children who have unintentional weight loss may also have:

  • changes in appetite
  • fussiness over certain foods
  • physically smaller stature
  • abdominal pain
  • fever

Certain medications can cause unintentional weight loss as a side effect. If you are on any medication and experience a noticeable weight loss, consult with your doctor.

Visiting Your Doctor

Try to keep track of your weight loss. Note when the weight loss started. Also, make a note of any other symptoms you may have experienced around the time of noticing the weight loss. This will give your doctor useful information which can help in making a diagnosis.

Unintentional weight loss is a symptom of several conditions. Your doctor must go over your symptoms and any recent lifestyle changes you’ve made to know exactly what’s causing the weight loss.

Your doctor may ask the following questions:

  • Have you changed your diet?
  • Have you had a recent illness?
  • Are you less energetic than usual?
  • Have you had any digestive problems such as diarrhea or constipation?
  • Have you started taking any new medications?

If your doctor feels that your diet, a digestive disorder, or malnutrition is to blame, he or she may do a nutritional assessment. This may consist of a blood test that shows levels of specific vitamins and minerals. The results of this test will determine if you are deficient in any of these or if you have anemia.

Anemia occurs when your level of red blood cells is lower than usual. Iron deficiency or deficiency in a specific B vitamin can cause an anemia.

Blood tests can also be used to determine if a hormonal condition is to blame.

How Is Unintentional Weight Loss Treated?

If you are suffering from a nutritional deficiency, your doctor may refer you to a dietician or devise a diet plan that helps to correct the deficiency. A deficiency due to a digestive disorder, such as inflammatory bowel disease, will require a specialized diet to help you get the nutrients you need. This may include taking over-the-counter supplements.

Over-the-counter medications such as laxatives or fiber supplements may help correct temporary digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea. However, always consult your doctor before trying any medication. Once the condition is corrected, the unintentional weight loss should subside.

Your doctor will likely prescribe medication if a hormonal disorder is causing the unintentional weight loss.

Unintentional weight loss due to general illnesses such as influenza, the common cold, or food poisoning may be corrected with:

  • bed rest
  • an increase in fluids
  • medications used to settle the stomach

In extreme situations, the doctor may administer food through a feeding tube in the hospital. This occurs when weight loss is so severe that you no longer have the energy to feed yourself or eating food alone will not help.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

AIDS

HIV causes progressive failure of the immune system, making the body far more susceptible to infections and cancer.

Read more »

2

Endometrial Cancer (Cancer of the Uterine Endometrium)

Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the inner lining of the uterus. You are at greater risk if you are 60-70 years old and have used hormone replacement therapy that contains estrogen.

Read more »

3

Depression Overview

Depression is a mood disorder that can cause extreme and persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. Depression type largely determines what kind of medical treatment is best.

Read more »

4

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is caused by a number of different viruses. Its symptoms usually last for two to three days.

Read more »

5

Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid gland produces a hormone that controls how your cells use energy (metabolize). Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body produces excessive amounts, causing rapid heart rates, weight loss, and heat intolerance.

Read more »

6

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerence occurs when a person's small intestine can't break down lactose, an enzyme found in dairy foods. The condition can cause many gastrointestinal symptoms.

Read more »

7

Stomach Cancer (Gastric Adenocarcinoma)

Gastric cancer, also known as gastric adenocarcinoma, is a cancer that forms inside of the stomach. It is the most common type of stomach cancer worldwide, and most commonly affects men over the age of 40.

Read more »

8

Laryngeal Cancer

Laryngeal cancer is a type of throat cancer that affects the larynx. The larynx is your voice box and it contains cartilage and muscles that help you talk. This type of cancer can damage your voice. When not treate...

Read more »

9

Colorectal (Colon) Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that originates in the rectum or colon. Both of these organs are located at the lower portion of your digestive system. The colon is at the end of the large intestine and the rectum is a...

Read more »

10

Diabetes Overview

Diabetes is a group of chronic metabolic diseases caused by defects in insulin production or function. Advanced diabetes may cause stomach pain, nausea, dizziness, and cramps.

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11

Emphysema

Emphysema is a disease of the lungs. It occurs most often in smokers. It also occurs in people who regularly breathe in irritants.

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12

Stomach Ulcer

Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are painful sores that can be found in the stomach lining or small intestine. These ulcers occur when the thick layer of mucus that protects the stomach from digestive juice...

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13

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood, from mania to depression. In mania, a person may feel extremely excited, impulsive, euphoric, and full of energy. Depression might brin...

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14

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease. People with type 1 have high levels of glucose in their blood. Glucose is a natural sugar that your body uses as a source of energy. It is obtained from food. Extra glucose i...

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15

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol dependence. It occurs when you drink so much over time that your body becomes dependent on or addicted to alcohol. When this happens, alcohol use becomes the most important thing i...

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16

Transitional Cell Cancer (Malignant Neoplasm of Ureter)

The tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder is known as the ureter . Most healthy people have two kidneys and, therefor, two ureters. The top of each ureter is found in the middle of the kidney in an area known a...

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17

Peptic Ulcer

Peptic ulcers are sores that develop in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, and small intestine as a result of erosion from stomach acids. Peptic ulcers are a fairly common health problem, and it is estimated tha...

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18

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) causes destruction of the kidneys. It is progressive and irreversible.Your kidneys are an essential part of your body. They have a number of functions: help maintain the balance of mineral...

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19

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells rapidly multiply and don't stop reproducing. The disease can develop anywhere in the body. Treatment is based on its location. When it originates in the lungs, it is lung cancer. Ther...

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20

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Your lungs are two sponge-like, air-filled organs located on either side of your chest. When you inhale, your lungs absorb oxygen and send it to the bloodstream for use by your cells. Carbon dioxide, a waste product o...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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