What are the Causes of Weight Loss?

The causes of unintentional weight loss are many and in most of the cases of weight loss the cause can be found by careful physical examination and some direct investigations or testing. But in approximately 20%-25% of the cases of weight loss the cause can not be found despite extensive testing and in general their survival is much better than those individuals for whom the cause can be found.

The causes of weight loss are different in elderly and for the young adults. For the elderly the common causes of unintentional weight loss are depression, cancer and gastrointestinal pathology and for young adults the common causes of unintentional weight loss are diabetes, eating disorders and other psychiatric illnesses, hyperthyroidism and infections like HIV. The causes of unintentional weight loss are also different in males and females (in young adult females anorexia nervosa can be a leading cause of unintentional weight loss).

The causes of unintentional weight loss are:

  • Cancer is one of the leading cause of unintentional weight loss in elderly persons. Due to very fast growth of cancer cells most of the energy is utilized by the cancer cell and little is left for maintenance of body weight.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders like malabsorption, pernicious anemia, obstruction of intestines etc.
  • Psychiatric disorders like depression, alcoholism, eating disorders (like anorexia nervosa), anxiety, bereavement etc.
  • Infections like HIV, tuberculosis, SABE (Subacute bacterial endocarditis), chronic worm infestations, parasitic infections, chronic fungal infection etc.
  • Hormonal and metabolic causes like hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus (both type-I and type-II diabetes), adrenal insufficiency, pheochromocytoma etc.
  • Respiratory diseases like COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), emphysema etc.
  • Cardiovascular diseases like chronic congestive heart failure, ischemia, stroke etc.
  • Drugs/medications (especially chronic use) like antibiotics, antihypertensive drugs (especially ACE inhibitors), NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), SRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors), metformin (used in diabetes) and many other commonly used drugs.
  • Social causes like poverty and isolation.
  • Other causes like age related factors, decreased taste & smell, diseases in mouth or teeth, dementia, Parkinson’s disease & other neurological disorders, renal insufficiency, rheumatism,  excessive physical exercise etc.
  • Idiopathic or unknown causes, which constitutes up to one fourth of total cases of unintentional weight loss.

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