Unexplained weight loss, or losing weight without trying, particularly if is persistent can be a cause for alarm. It might indicate an underlying medical disorder.
A good rule of thumb is to consult your doctor if you have lost a significant amount of weight like more than 5% within 6 to 12 months. Your weight is generally affected by your activity level, calorie intake, age, nutrient absorption, overall health, and social and economic factors.
Remember, not all weight loss is serious. It can occur after any stressful or life-changing event. Therefore, unintentional weight loss may be a signal of one of the following medical situations.
1. Overactive thyroid
When your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism develops. It is also known as Graves’ disease, hyperthyroidism is a type of autoimmune disease. These hormones control different functions in your body, including metabolism.
An overactive thyroid can cause the burning of calories quickly even if you have a good appetite. Hence, the outcome can be unintentional weight loss. Other symptoms include;
• fast, irregular heart rate
• heat intolerance
• sleep troubles
• hand tremors
• light periods in women
Possible causes of hyperthyroidism include;
• Graves’ disease
• eating too much iodine
• taking too much thyroid medicine
Treatment of hyperthyroidism depends on the severity of your case and also on your age. Mostly, it is cured with radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid medications, beta-blockers, or surgery.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness. It can cause loss of interest in things which the person may enjoy previously. Weight gain is a common symptom related to depression, but it can lead to weight loss also.
Depression usually affects the same parts of your brain which control appetite. Therefore, it can cause loss of appetite, and ultimately, weight loss. Other symptoms of depression include;
• constant sadness
• loss of interest in hobbies
• low energy
• poor concentration
• sleeping too little or too much
• thoughts of death or suicide
Psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and antidepressants are usually used to treat depression.
People usually associate diabetes with obesity or weight gain, but actual weight loss can be a startling diabetes symptom. Type 1 diabetes causes unwanted weight loss. In this case, your immune system attacks pancreatic cells of your body which make insulin. Without insulin, your body cannot use glucose for energy, thus causing high blood glucose.
Your kidneys are responsible for removing unused glucose through urine. As sugar leaves your body, so do calories. Type 1 diabetes also causes;
- frequent urination
- blurry vision
- excessive thirst
- excessive hunger
Treatment of type 1 diabetes includes blood sugar monitoring, insulin, diet modifications, and exercise.
4. Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may also cause sudden weight loss. IBD usually encompasses many long-lasting inflammatory disorders of the digestive tract. The two common types are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
This condition puts your body in a catabolic state, which means that it is continuously using up energy. IBD also disrupts some hormones like ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and leptin, the satiety hormone. Consequently, this leads to decreased appetite and weight loss. Additional symptoms include;
- stomach pain
- bloody stools
Hence, the treatment of IBD consists of medication, nutritional support, and in some cases, surgery.
Cancer is a term used for diseases which causes abnormal cells to divide and spread quickly. According to the American Cancer Society, one of the first signs of cancer include unexplained weight loss of almost 10 pounds or more. This is common with cancers of the lung, esophagus, pancreas, and stomach.
Cancer increases inflammation which promotes muscle wasting and also disturbs appetite-regulating hormones. A rising tumor may also increase your resting energy expenditure (REE). Some of the early symptoms of cancer also include;
- skin changes
Treatment usually depends on the type of cancer. Typical treatments comprise radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.
6. Addison’s disease
This disease develops when your immune system attacks the adrenal glands of your body. The adrenal glands are damaged and do not produce the stress hormones like cortisol and aldosterone in sufficient quantities. Cortisol regulates functions like metabolism and appetite. So then, low levels of this hormone may lead to loss of appetite and weight loss. Other symptoms of Addison’s disease include;
- low blood pressure
- chronic fatigue
- muscle weakness
- salt cravings
Addison’s disease is uncommon, affecting approximately 1 in 100,000 people in the United States. Treatment includes medications which will regulate adrenal gland.
7. Muscle loss
Muscle loss, or muscle wasting, may also lead to weight loss. Weakness of muscles is its major symptom. Hence, one of your limbs may even look smaller as compared to other. As, your body consists of fat mass and fat-free mass, which comprises water, muscle, and bone. If you lose muscle, you will lose weight also.
Muscle wastingcan occur if you do not use your muscles for a while. However, it is more common in people who don’t exercise or are bedridden. Normally, proper nutrition and exercise will reverse muscle loss. Other possible causes of muscle loss contain;
- injuries, such as broken bones
- rheumatoid arthritis
- multiple sclerosis
- nerve damage
8. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder which makes your immune system attack the lining of your joints, thus leading to inflammation. Chronic inflammation can haste metabolism and reduce weight.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis comprise pain and joint swelling. Generally, it affects the same joints on both sides of your body. If you have this disease, your joints might feel rigid if you don’t move for an hour or more. An exact cause of RA is not known. It may be linked to;
- hormonal changes
- secondhand smoking
Treatment of RA begins with medication. Medications contain corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, biologics, and Janus associated kinase inhibitors.
9. Zinc deficiency
The body requires many minerals and vitamins, including zinc, to work properly and efficiently. Usually, most of the people get enough zinc through their diet, but for those who don’t, a deficiency can lead to poor appetite and weight loss, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“Zinc deficiency causes a persistent bad taste in your mouth, thus leading to not eating and losing weight,” says Dr. Sonpal. Zinc deficiency can also arise due to certain medications, comprising certain antibiotics, and some diuretics prescribed for high blood pressure. Generally, good sources of zinc comprise red meat, oysters, poultry, nuts, and beans. In addition to natural foods, some pills can also be taken to get enough zinc.
10. HIV and AIDS
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, also known as AIDS, is a long-lasting, possibly life-threatening disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). “HIV can make it tougher to absorb nutrients for your body, which causes malnutrition. Hence, it can lead to a decreased appetite and weight loss,” says Lisa Ashe, DO, a board-certified internal medicine physician.
Symptoms such as sore throat, fatigue, and mouth sores can make eating uncomfortable. Also, it increase the risk of many secondary infections, which increase REE. Other symptoms of HIV include;
- night sweats
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle aches
Symptoms of AIDS depend on the stage of infection. Antiretroviral therapy is mostly used to treat HIV. It stop the spread of the virus and may also improve weight loss.