Causes of Weight Loss
Simple Causes: Weight loss need not be a major disease. In fact, it is often explained by simple changes that have occurred in your lifestyle, such as:
- Eating less. Are you just eating less foods, less often, dieting, or cooking less? Or is there a problem getting enough food or a problem cooking it?
- Eating better. Are you eating fewer fatty foods, more fresh foods, less fast food, and so on?
- Exercising more. This doesnít just mean that youíre hitting the gym more regularly, it can also be an increase in other activity. For example, you might be walking more, standing up more at a new job, or just cleaning out around the house more regularly.
But if none of these seems to fit, then the cause of the weight loss needs to be investigated by a doctor.
Poor Eating. Weight loss can be due to problems with eating. Some of the associated medical conditions include:
- Chronic Illness: Have you had a recent severe illness that has made it difficult to feel well enough to eat?
- Malnutrition. This can occur due to poverty or neglect. It can also occur in the elderly due to practical difficulties with cooking or shopping.
- Failure to Thrive. When an infant fails to properly gain weight, this is called ďfailure to thriveĒ. This isnít really weight loss as such, as the infant need not lose weight, but the child is not gaining enough weight for normal growth.
- Malabsorption. The failure of the body to properly absorb the nutrients in food, which can cause weight loss or failure to thrive. There are various causes of malabsorption.
Vomiting or Regurgitation: Weight loss can occur if a person is not keeping the food down. Possibilities include:
- Vomiting disorders. There are numerous causes of vomiting, and the cause of the vomiting needs to be diagnosed.
- Regurgitation. This refers to the food coming back up, but is not really vomiting due to a vomiting disease.
- Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome.
Appetite changes: One possible cause of eating less and weight loss is a decline in your appetite. Are you just not feeling as hungry? Donít feel like eating as much? Some disorders that cause unusual changes to appetite include:
- Depression (Depressive Symptoms).
- Emotional symptoms. Any kind of emotional upset, sadness, grief, loss, or similar life issue can cause a decline in appetite.
- Swallowing disorders. Any pain or discomfort on swallowing can make a person less interested in eating. See: Painful Swallow, Swallowing Difficulty
- Esophagus Disorders. Causing painful swallowing (e.g. esophagitis).
- Oral disorders. Mouth ulcers or sores make eating or swallowing painful (e.g. herpes simplex, stomatitis, hand-foot-mouth disease, tongue ulcers, and other mouth concerns)
- Infections or Disease. A person can lose their appetite due to numerous other diseases, viruses, or infections. Weight loss is not usually the only symptom in this case. The underlying cause needs to be investigated.
Major Diseases: There are a number of important diseases that can cause unexplained weight loss.
- Diabetes. Unexplained weight loss is a hallmark symptom of undiagnosed diabetes. The weight loss can develop slowly as in Type 2 Diabetes (months or even years), or it can onset quite quickly in Type 1 Diabetes (weeks or months). The difficulty of the body processing sugar in diabetes causes weight loss. In fact, diabetes can actually cause weight loss along with extreme hunger at the same time. In its most severe stages, diabetes can cause you to lose weight while youíre seemingly eating everything you can lay your hands to.
- Poorly controlled diabetes. If a person with diabetes is non-compliant with treatment and allows their disease to be poorly controlled, weight loss can again occur.
- Thyroid Disease (Over-Active Thyroid, Gravesí Disease, Hyperthyroidism). Weight loss is also a hallmark symptom of an over-active thyroid disease, such as Gravesí Disease. An excess of thyroid hormone in the blood due to over-active thyroid disorders can cause the bodyís metabolism to go faster, leading to weight loss.
- Adrenal disorders
- Adrenal insufficiency
- AIDS (HIV)
- Cancers (see details below)
- Cachexia. This is widespread weight loss due to a major disease such as cancer or AIDS.
Abdominal Fullness. Do you feel fuller earlier when eating? Another possible cause of both decline in appetite and of weight loss are some disorders that can cause the stomach to feel fuller earlier. Some of these medical conditions include:
- Gastric Motility Disorders. This is the general name for a number of diseases where the stomach and the digestive system move food more slowly, which means you feel fuller for longer.
- Delayed Gastric Emptying.
- Gastroparesis (Diabetic Gastroparesis). This is a disorder of the stomach nerve that causes the stomach to process food more slowly.
- Diabetic Diarrhea. This is a neuropathy of the intestinal nerves, that causes food to be passed along more slowly.
- Stomach disorder (various types).
- Abdominal obstructions.
Read more about: Abdominal Fullness.
- Acute diarrhea disorders. There are numerous causes of diarrhea. This can cause weight loss, but also important to watch for is that it may cause dehydration (and electrolyte imbalances).
- Acute gastroenteritis
Chronic Digestive Disorders: There are many possible chronic disorders of the digestive system that could interfere with the digestion of food. If food is not properly digested, then weight loss is common. In most cases there are symptoms other than weight loss, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
- Stomach ulcer
- Duodenal ulcer
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Crohnís Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Celiac Disease
- Colitis (various causes)
- Worm infestation
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Stomach cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Whipple disease
There are many others. Read more about: Chronic Digestive Disorders.
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Diabulimia. A fancy name for the use of intentionally poor diabetic control to lose weight by effectively provoking a weight loss complication of diabetes.
Read more about: Eating Disorders.
Respiratory Infections: A number of other diseases can cause weight loss, usually in conjunction with other symptoms. Some possibilities include:
- Viral infection. A respiratory tract infection can cause weight loss, but usually there are other symptoms such as fever.
- Lung infection. An acute lung infection can cause weight loss (as can most infectious diseases).
- Chronic lung infection. Various possible causes of pneumonia and lung infection.
- Hand-foot-mouth disease
There are many other possibilities; read more about: Respiratory Infections.
Tumors and Cancers: It is fairly well-known that weight loss may be a symptom of cancer. Although not the most common cause, it is one of the most serious. Possible causes include:
- Colorectal cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Biliary carcinoma
- Lung cancer
- Metastatic cancer
- Malignant tumor (i.e. cancer, numerous possible types)
Other Diseases: Various other diseases may cause weight loss, such as:
Substance Causes: Poison, drug and medication-related causes include:
- Lead poisoning
- Arsenic poisoning
- Drug abuse
- Amphetamine abuse
- Laxative overuse
- Chemotherapy side-effect
- Aspirin (poor appetite)
- Digitalis (appetite loss)
- Thyroid medication overuse (e.g. incorrect dosage, or rarely a factitious syndrome)
- Medication side-effect
Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.