Losing a few pounds here and there is normal!
Intentional weight loss from dieting and exercise is one thing. But it’s a sign of trouble if you start losing a significant amount of weight without any major changes in your lifestyle. This means you are eating the same amount of food and doing the same kind of physical activities that you normally do.
Though weight loss seems like a feat, an unexplained drop in weight is not something to cheer about. In fact, unexplained loss of more than 5 percent of your body weight in less than a year may signal an underlying medical condition.
Rapid weight loss at any time in life should be taken as a serious sign, and you must consult a physician immediately to determine the cause. Always remember that the earlier a disease is discovered, the more successful treatment is likely to be.
Here are 10 health issues that can cause unexplained weight loss.
Diabetes is a common reason behind unexplained weight loss. It is a metabolic disorder that causes high blood glucose levels, either due to insufficient insulin production in the body or an inability of the body to respond properly to insulin.
Weight loss occurs in people with diabetes for two reasons: excess water loss due to frequent urination and the body being unable to absorb calories from the sugar in the blood.
Plus, if there is insufficient insulin, the body starts burning fat and muscle for energy, causing a drop in overall body weight.
A 2014 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research reports that severe weight loss is common only in Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes that remains undetected for a long period of time.
Along with unintentional weight loss, some other symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, intense hunger, excess fatigue, cuts and bruises not healing properly, and tingling sensations in the feet and/or hands.
Sudden weight loss despite having no change or an increase in appetite can indicate a thyroid problem, particularly hyperthyroidism.
In this type of thyroid problem, an abnormal increase in the activity of the thyroid gland causes an excess of thyroid hormones circulating in the blood.
The high amounts of T4, T3 or both hormones circulating in the blood can cause an excessively high metabolic rate, leading to increased burning of “fuel” in the body.
Apart from rapid weight loss, hyperthyroidism also speeds up your heart rate and causes excess sweating, hot flushes, panic attacks, mood swings, bulging eyes, muscle weakness and fatigue.
3. Stomach Ulcer
People who suffer from a peptic ulcer also experience unexplained weight loss. In fact, it is a prominent sign in many people.
A peptic ulcer, also known as a stomach ulcer, is a sore that develops on the inside lining of the stomach or the upper portion of the small intestine. The sore causes pain and leads to loss of appetite.
So, the reason behind the weight loss is loss of appetite, mixed with nausea and bouts of vomiting, two other common symptoms of a peptic ulcer.
Some other symptoms include feeling full after eating only a few bites of food, chest pain, bloody or dark tarry stools, and fatigue.
4. Parasite Infestation
A parasitic infestation in your intestines is another common cause of sudden weight loss.
Several types of parasites live in and feed off your body, and some of them survive on the food you consume. Such parasites include pinworms, hookworms and tapeworms, which enter your body through the skin or by ingestion.
During a parasite infestation, you will notice an increase in your appetite because the parasites consume a good amount of the food you eat, thus making you hungry more often than usual. Moreover, according to a 2013 study published in the PLOS journal, weight loss following a worm infestation could be body’s way of fighting off the worms.
In addition to weight loss and increased appetite, other symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, anal itching, lack of energy, and nutritional deficiencies.
Though it may sound strange, depression can also cause unintentional weight loss.
This common mood disorder leads to feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration that can affect different aspects of everyday life, including your appetite.
Due to the drop in appetite, people suffering from depression may start losing weight.
A 2008 study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism reports that an increase in depression symptoms correlates to weight loss, which is associated with a trend toward hypoglycemia as well as a decrease in T3 and fT4 levels.
Other common symptoms of depression include sleeping issues, difficulty concentrating, negative thoughts, feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness, suicidal thoughts and lots more. In some cases, however, depression can cause weight gain instead of weight loss.
Unexplained weight loss is one of the first noticeable signs of different types of cancer, including prostate, breast, lung, pancreatic, ovarian and colon cancer, to name a few.
The uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells speeds up your metabolism and wears out your entire body by straining its resources, which causes weight loss. When the cancer cells start spreading, it can impair the functioning of various internal organs.
Plus, cancer can cause chemical changes in the body that make it very difficult to gain weight, despite eating a high-calorie diet.
Cancer treatments can also lead to weight loss. Radiation and chemotherapy often cause a decrease in appetite. Also, they cause side effects, including nausea, vomiting and mouth sores that make eating a painful process.
Apart from weight loss and loss of appetite, signs and symptoms vary according to the type of cancer.
7. Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, is another health problem linked to unintentional weight loss.
Weight loss is an indication of malnutrition caused by not getting enough calories to meet your needs. This can happen due to poor appetite, food aversions, malabsorption of nutrients, and loss of nutrients as a result of diarrhea or intestinal bleeding.
A 1994 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that people with Crohn’s disease who had lost weight reported lower levels of hunger and less pleasure from eating as compared to people who had not lost weight. Here, weight loss is due to a decrease in food intake rather than an increase in energy cost of the disease.
Some other symptoms of Crohn’s disease are persistent diarrhea, a low-grade fever, low energy, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea and vomiting.
Unexplained weight loss can also be a symptom of tuberculosis (TB). In fact, one of the first signs of this serious infection is unexpected weight loss accompanied by a lack of appetite.
This contagious disease is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. It most commonly affects the lungs, but can also affect the other parts of your body including the lymph nodes, bones, the digestive system, reproductive system, and nervous system.
In addition to unexplained weight loss, other symptoms of tuberculosis include a persistent cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks, extreme fatigue, fever, night sweats, and other symptoms depending upon the organ affected by the infection.
9. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Unexplained weight loss can also be a sign of dementia in middle-aged elderly people. Though the two may seem unrelated, researchers have highlighted the connection between weight loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2005 study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London noted that weight loss in dementia patients often begins even before the onset of the definite dementia symptoms.
Another 2014 study by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College notes that the accumulation of amyloid-beta peptide in the brain disrupts the body’s weight-regulating mechanism, leading to accelerated weight loss years before the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
A significant amount of weight loss is common in people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
HIV is just like other viruses, but the line of discrimination with other viruses is that the human immune system cannot flush out this virus. Rather, the virus destroys the immune system so that your body can no longer fight infections and diseases.
If not controlled in time, HIV can develop into AIDS.
Along with weight loss, fever, night sweats, sore throat, muscle pain, rashes, fatigue, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea are some of the other symptoms of HIV.
Other Causes of Unintentional Weight Loss:
Apart from the above mentioned diseases, some other causes of unintentional weight loss include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, muscle loss, congestive heart failure, alcoholism, hypercalcemia, malnutrition, Parkinson’s disease, Addison’s disease, and celiac disease.
- Medications, including chemotherapy drugs, laxatives and thyroid medicine.
- Recreational drugs, including amphetamines and cocaine.