Unexplained weight loss

Dr Maxwell Adeyemi -
Dr Maxwell Adeyemi -


Unexplained weight loss can be a cause for concern and may be an indication of an underlying condition. Although not all weight loss is serious, as it can happen after a life-changing or stressful event, if you have lost more than five per cent of your weight unintentionally within a six-month-period, you should check your doctor.

Causes of weight loss

1: Muscle loss, or muscle wasting, can lead to unexpected weight loss, and the major symptom is muscle weakness. Your body is made of fat mass and fat-free mass, which includes muscle, bone, and water. If you lose muscle, you’ll lose weight. This can happen if you don’t use muscles for a while and is most common in people who don’t exercise, work desk jobs, or are bedridden. Other possible causes of muscle loss include injuries such as broken bones, ageing, burns, a stroke, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and nerve damage.

2: Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, develops when your thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. These hormones control many functions in the body, including metabolism. If your thyroid is overactive, you’ll quickly burn calories even if you have a good appetite and lose weight. Other symptoms of overactive thyroid include fast and irregular heart rate, anxiety, fatigue, heat intolerance, sleep troubles, hand tremors, light periods in women.

3: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that makes your immune system attack the lining of your joints, leading to inflammation. Chronic inflammation can speed up metabolism and reduce overall weight. It usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body and symptoms include joint swelling and pain. The exact cause is unknown, but researchers believe it may be linked to age, genes, hormonal changes, smoking, secondhand smoking and obesity.

4: When you are diabetic your pancreas does not make insulin at all or it does not make enough insulin. Without insulin, your body can’t use glucose for energy, causing high blood glucose. Your kidneys remove unused glucose through urine, and as the sugar leaves your body, so do calories, resulting in weight loss. Diabetes also causes frequent urination, dehydration, fatigue, blurry vision, excessive thirst and excessive hunger.

5: Weight loss may 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, and can lead to poor appetite and eventually weight loss. In some cases, however, depression may increase appetite. The symptoms vary from person to person.

6: Unexpected weight loss may be a symptom of inflammatory bowel disease – a condition that encompasses several chronic inflammatory disorders of the digestive tract. The two most common types are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The chronic inflammation puts the body in a catabolic state, which means that it’s constantly using up energy. The disease also disrupts ghrelin – the hunger hormone, and leptin – the satiety hormone, resulting in decreased appetite and weight loss.

7: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a progressive lung disease. This includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema slowly damages the air sacs in your lungs, making it hard to breathe. Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation of the airways that bring air to your lungs. This produces mucus, coughing, and breathing issues.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can cause weight loss. Laboured breathing burns a lot of calories, a person with this condition may need 10 more times more calories to breathe than a person without the disease. It can also feel uncomfortable to eat and breathe at the same time.

8: Endocarditis causes inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. It develops when germs, usually bacteria, enter the bloodstream and collect in the heart.

Most people with endocarditis have a fever and a poor appetite. Elevated body temperature also increases metabolism and burns fat, causing weight loss.

Other symptoms include heart murmur, coughing – with or without blood, abdominal pain, chest pain, difficulty breathing, night sweats, back pain, headache, red or purple spots on the skin.

9: Tuberculosis is a contagious condition that usually affects the lungs. Decreased appetite is a major symptom, resulting in weight loss. Other symptoms include a bad cough that lasts three weeks or more, chest pain, coughing up blood or phlegm, fatigue, night sweats, chills and fever.

10: Cancer is the general term for diseases that cause abnormal cells to quickly divide and spread. One of the first signs may be unexplained weight loss of ten pounds or more. Cancer increases inflammation, which promotes muscle wasting and disrupts appetite-regulating hormones. A growing tumour may also increase resting energy expenditure, or how much energy your body burns at rest.

11: Addison’s disease develops when the immune system attacks the adrenal glands. In turn, the adrenal glands can’t make enough hormones like cortisol, which regulates many functions, including metabolism and appetite.

12: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks immune cells called T cells, making 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 like sore throat, mouth sores, and fatigue can make eating uncomfortable. HIV also increase the risk of secondary infections, which increase resting energy expenditure.

13: Weight loss is a complication of congestive heart failure, which develops when the heart can’t fill up with enough blood or is unable to pump blood with enough force. It may affect one or both sides of the heart. Congestive heart failure prevents the digestive system from receiving enough blood, causing nausea and early fullness. Additionally, it might be hard to breathe while eating. The inflammation in damaged heart tissue also speeds up metabolism, causing unintentional weight loss. Other symptoms also include shortness of breath, persistent coughing, swelling, fatigue, fast heart rate. Congestive heart failure can cause weight gain due to fluid retention.

If you are concerned about weight loss, especially if unintentional, it is wise to consult your doctor.

Contact Dr Maxwell on 363-1807 or 757-5411.


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