What Unintentional Weight Loss Might Indicate

By:    Published: March 7, 2012

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Unintentional weight loss may indicate an underlying medical condition in some individuals. If you have recently lost weight and you have not been dieting or exercising in an effort to do so, this weight loss may be cause for concern. If your weight loss is significant, exceeding 10 pounds, or continues to occur, the cause should be examined by your health care professional.

Definition

Unintentional weight loss is the act of losing weight without attempting to do so.  At certain points in people’s lives, the occurrence of unexpected or unexplained weight loss may be completely normal.  The proper balance of adequate calorie intake, exercise, age and general health maintains your weight. (To learn more about calories and your weight, read Using Calorie Counting For Weight Loss.)

For example, a middle-aged adult can expect to shed a few pounds here and there without cause for concern. However, a substantial weight loss of more than 5 percent of your body weight, a loss of 10 pounds or more, or an unwavering, steady and unexplained weight loss should be brought to the attention of your doctor for further investigation.

Symptoms

While you may not have stepped on a scale, you might be suspecting that you’ve lost weight due to some common symptoms of unexplained weight loss. Common indications you may be losing weight include:

  • Slimmer appearance
  • Lose fitting clothing
  • Loss of fat around cheekbones
  • Sagging skin

Causes Of Unintentional Weight Loss

There are several possible causes for unexplained weight loss. While the cause may not be obvious, with the help of your doctor, you may be able to identify any underlying conditions and determine the cause of your weight loss. Possible causes of unexplained weight loss include:

  • Depression
  • Drug use or abuse
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Celiac disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Heart failure
  • Diarrhea
  • Malnutrition
  • Anorexia or Bulimia
  • Smoking
  • Mouth pain or sores, braces or lost teeth that may inhibit eating

When To Call A Doctor

If you have started losing weight without attempting to do so, you will need to contact your doctor to determine the cause of this unexplained weight loss. While a small amount of unintentional weight loss may be normal, it is important seek medical attention if any of the following conditions are present:

  • You have lost approximately five percent of your body weight in the course of six months to a year or less.
  • You have lost in excess of 10 pounds without trying to do so.
  • Your teenage son or daughter has lost an unexplained amount of weight coupled with an unrealistic self-image. This might be indicative of an eating disorder. (For more information on teenage eating disorders, read Understanding Teenage Eating Disorders.)

Diagnostic Tests

Once you have scheduled an appointment with your doctor, you will likely undergo diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your weight loss. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • A physical examination
  • Evaluation of current weight and recent weight loss trends
  • Medical history
  • List of current symptoms
  • A nutritional assessment
  • Blood tests

Treatment

Treatment will differ depending upon the cause of the weight loss. If Anorexia, Bulimia or depression is suspected, a psychological evaluation will likely be recommended as well as subsequent psychological counseling. Additionally, if the weight loss is caused by a lingering illness, a feeding tube may be necessary in order to sustain proper nutrition. Regardless of the cause of your weight loss, it may be helpful to seek guidance from a nutritionist or registered dietician to ensure that you are receiving proper nutrients. In addition, you may require a particular diet to avoid any additional weight loss and recover lost weight.

Home Care

At home, try to uphold a well-balanced diet. If you have already been evaluated by a doctor, follow all of the doctor’s recommendations for treatment and prevention of further weight loss. Include plenty of nutritious foods in our diet and refrain from eating junk food that has no nutritional value. Stay well hydrated and make sure you are getting plenty of rest. If an oral health issue is causing your weight loss, seek the medical advice of a dentist.

Considerations

Contact your doctor if you are experiencing unintentional weight loss. Be prepared to give a detailed medical history, as you will likely be likely asked a lot of questions. It may be helpful to keep a health journal for a few days prior to your appointment. In it, include such points s how many hours of sleep you are getting, what foods you are eating, any medications you are taking, and any recent changes in your life. Changes can include anything from a new job or a move to a new home, to new laundry detergent or cleaning chemicals.

If it is your child that has experienced a significant weight loss, be aware of that child’s self-image and eating behaviors and contact your doctor immediately.

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