Losing a few pounds is normal, but there are some health conditions that can cause unexplained weight loss.
You might want to lose weight through some diet modification and frequent exercise. But it’s not normal if you start losing a significant amount of weight without any major lifestyle modifications.
What this means is that you are eating the same amount of food and doing the same physical activities that you normally do, yet, you are losing a significant amount of weight.
Although weight loss might be a feat to many, an unexplained drop in weight is not something you should take for granted. As a matter of fact, unexplained weight loss of more than 5 percent in less than a year may signal an underlying medical condition.
Also, rapid weight loss at any point in time of your life should be taken as a serious warning sign, and you must see a physician immediately for an examination.
Keep in mind that early detection leads to a more successful treatment. This article highlights ten health conditions that can cause unexplained weight loss.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that causes high blood glucose level, either as a result of insufficient insulin production or inability of the body to respond properly to insulin.
It is a very common reason behind unexplained weight loss.
There are two reasons for weight loss in a diabetic individual: excessive water loss due to frequent urination and inability of the body to absorb glucose from the blood.
Also, due to the inability of the body to metabolize sugar effectively, the body starts burning fat and muscle for energy causing a drop in overall body weight.
A study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research reveals that severe weight loss is common in type 1 and 2 diabetes that remains undetected for a long period (1).
Other symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, intense hunger, excessive thirst, excess fatigue, cuts, and bruises not healing and a tingling sensation in the feet and/or hands.
2. Stomach Ulcer
People suffering from stomach ulcer also experience unexplained weight loss. It is even a more prominent sign in many people.
Stomach ulcer which is a type of peptic ulcer, is a sore or lesion that develops in the lining of the stomach or the upper portion of the small intestine. The sore causes pain and often lead to loss of appetite.
So, loss of appetite coupled with nausea and bouts of vomiting which are typical signs and symptoms of stomach ulcer are the reasons behind unexplained weight loss.
Sudden unexplained weight loss with no change or a decrease in appetite can be an indication of thyroid problem, particularly hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is an abnormal increase in the activity of the thyroid gland causing excess production of thyroid hormone.
The high amounts of these thyroid hormones (Thyroxine and Triiodothyronine) circulating in the blood can cause an exponential increase in metabolic rate, leading to increased burning of energy in the body.
Apart from that, hyperthyroidism also speeds up your heart rate and causes excess sweating, panic attacks, mood swings, hot flushes, muscle weakness, and fatigue.
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It affects mostly the lungs but can spread to other parts of your body including the bones, lymph nodes, reproductive system, digestive system and nervous system.
Apart from unexplained weight loss, other symptoms of tuberculosis include a persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks, fever, night sweat, extreme fatigue and other symptoms depending on the severity and the organ affected by the infection.
5. Parasite Infestation
A parasitic infestation in your stomach could be another reason of unexplained weight loss. Several types of parasites live and feed off your body, and some of them depend on the food you eat for survival.
Some of them include tapeworms, pinworms, and hookworms which enter your body either through the skin or by ingestion.
One of the early sign of parasitic infestation is an increase in appetite because the parasites consume a good amount of the food you consume. This makes you get hungry more frequently than usual.
However, a study published in the PLoS journal reports that weight loss following a worm infestation could be the body’s way of warding off the worms (3).
In addition to increased appetite and weight loss, other warning signs of parasite infestation include diarrhea, abdominal pain, anal itching, lack of energy and nutritional deficiencies.
Sudden weight loss is one of the first noticeable signs of different types of cancer including breast, prostate, ovarian, lung, colon, etc.
The uncontrolled growth of cancerous cells speeds up your metabolism and depleting your entire body energy store which results in weight loss (4).
When these abnormal cells start spreading, it can impair the functionality of other vital internal organs. Also, cancer can cause chemical changes in your body making weight gain difficult despite your weight gain effort
Also, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation could cause weight loss due to a decrease in appetite. Other side effects include vomiting, nausea, and a mouth sore that makes eating painful.
However, signs and symptoms may vary depending on the type of cancer.
You may not believe this, but depression can cause unexplained weight loss.
When you have a mood swing, it could lead to feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration that can affect the different aspect of your everyday life including your appetite.
When you aren’t feeding well due to depression, you may start losing weight unintentionally.
A study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism shows a correlation between depression and weight loss (5). Other common signs of depression include negative thoughts, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, difficulty concentrating and suicidal thought.
However, in some cases, depression can lead to weight gain instead of weight loss. What a plot twist!
8. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Unintentional and sudden weight loss could be a warning sign of dementia in middle-aged and elderly people (6). The two may seem unrelated, but there is a connection between weight loss and Alzheimer’s disease
A 2005 study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London shows that weight loss in patients with dementia often starts even before the symptoms of dementia (7).
Another 2014 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows 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 (8).
This leads to the conclusion that weight loss is a prominent early sign of Alzheimer’s disease that often starts even before cognitive decline and clinical diagnosis.
9. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
An excessive and significant weight loss is a common symptom of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (9).
HIV is a very stubborn virus that cannot be flushed out by the human immune system. Rather this virus, in turn, weakens the immune system so that your body can no longer combat infections and diseases.
HIV can develop into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) if left uncontrolled.
10. Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is another health condition that can cause unexplained weight loss.
It is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes the inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
Weight loss could happen due to food aversions, poor appetite, malabsorption of nutrients and loss of nutrients due to diarrhea or intestinal bleeding.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people with Crohn’s disease who had lost weight had lower levels of hunger and less pleasure from food as compared to those who had not lost weight(10).
Other common symptoms of Crohn’s disease are persistent diarrhea, low energy, a low-grade fever, abdominal cramp, nausea, and vomiting.
In conclusion, weight loss is due to decrease in food intake rather than an increase in energy expenditure (11). If this decrease in nutrition is as a result of a chronic illness, it is termed Cachexia.
It is important to ask yourself certain questions when you notice a significant amount of loss in your weight without even try to lose any. For example, Is it time to pay the doctor a visit?
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