If you are experiencing weight loss despite not making any conscious efforts to lose weight, then this can be sign that something is seriously wrong with your body. Unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of several health issues ranging from physical diseases like diabetes and cancer to mental health problems like depression.
So, if you notice a drastic weight loss and an increasing feeling of fatigue, despite eating the same amount of food or perhaps even after increasing your food intake, go for a health check-up as soon as possible.
Given below are the most common health issues that can cause unexplained weight loss:
Diabetes is a serious disease in which the body’s ability to efficiently metabolize its blood sugar levels is affected. The cells in the human body need sugar from carbohydrates for energy. This sugar is converted into glucose in the bloodstream; however, the body cells are unable to absorb it directly.
Insulin is a vital hormone produced by the pancreas. After digestion of food, as the blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas release insulin which attaches itself to the body cells and signals them to absorb the sugar from the bloodstream. Any imbalance in the production of this hormone, can seriously impact your body’s ability to function.
In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fail to produce any insulin at all as your immune system destroys the beta cells in your pancreas, which are responsible for the production of insulin.While in Type 2 diabetes, this gland is unable to produce enough insulin or the body cells fail to react to the secreted insulin.
Unexplained weight loss combined with increased frequency of urination is one of the most common symptoms of diabetes, especially Type 1 diabetes. The failure of your body to produce or efficiently utilize insulin can cause your blood sugar levels to rise drastically. As your body is unable to absorb this sugar, your kidneys work overtime to filter and absorb the excess level of sugar in your bloodstream.
The extra sugar is excreted from your body via urination. That is why people suffering from diabetes feel the need to visit the bathroom frequently. The increased urination removes both sugar and calories from your system. You also feel weak despite eating well as your body is unable to absorb the glucose in your bloodstream for energy.
If you are experiencing increased urination, constant reduction in weight and fatigue, then these signs may be an indication that you are suffering from diabetes. It’s best to consult a physician for proper diagnosis and care.
Overactive Thyroid or Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is a disorder of the endocrine system, in which the thyroid gland exhibits increased activity, which in turn increases the rate of metabolism in the body.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland which is located at the front of your neck. When functioning normally, this gland secretes hormones that control your body’s metabolism.
Thyroid disorders like an overactive thyroid gland, lead to a sharp increase in the production of metabolic hormones such as thyroxine or T4 and triiodothyronine or T3. This in turn causes a drastic increase in rate of metabolism in the body.
Unexplained weight loss is one of the most common and obvious signs of hyperthyroidism, especially in women. As your body’s metabolism rates increase, more calories are burned. This can lead to weight loss, as your body burns more calories than it absorbs.
Other signs of hyperthyroidism include:
• Exhaustion, accompanied by mood swings with feeling of anxiety, nervousness and irritability
• Increased hunger
• Perspiration and thirst
• Heat intolerance due to an increased body temperature
• Eye problems
• An enlarged thyroid gland that manifests itself in the form of a swelling in the neck
• Menstrual changes or infertility.
Tuberculosis or TB
Unexplained weight loss can also be a symptom of tuberculosis. In fact one of the first signs of a tuberculosis infection is unexpected weight loss accompanied by lack of appetite. A 2002 study, conducted by R. van Crevel et al., stated that severe weight loss was commonly seen in TB patients, and it could be used to determine the severity and outcome of the disease.
Tuberculosis is a serious infection caused by the bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It most commonly affects the lungs, but can also affect the other parts of your body including the lymph nodes, bones & joints, the digestive system, your bladder and the reproductive system and the nervous system.
Other symptoms of tuberculosis include:
• A high temperature or fever and night sweats
• Extreme fatigue
• A persistent cough often accompanied by the appearance of bloody phlegm, that lasts for more than 3 weeks ( pulmonary TB)
• Gradually worsening breathlessness ( pulmonary TB)
• Abdominal pain
• Persistent headache and confusion
• Swollen glands
• Fits or seizures
• Pain accompanied by loss of movement in the affected joint or bone
Cancer has been called the silent killer as very often symptoms do not appear till the disease has progressed to an advanced stage, at which cure is impossible or highly unlikely to succeed.
While the best way to screen for cancer is getting regular health check-ups, paying attention to early symptoms like unexpected or unexplained weight loss can greatly help in the timely detection of cancer.
People need to pay attention to early signs of cancer like constant fever, extreme fatigue and inexplicable weight loss. Cancer cells take a heavy toll on the body by taking up most of its energy or by releasing harmful substances that alter the nutrition absorbing capability of the body. It also attacks the immune system and therefore, causes fever, constant tiredness and drastic weight loss.
Around 40 % of people with cancer experience unexplained weight loss and 80% of the advanced cancer patients endure weight loss and cachexia or wasting disease. Unexplained weight loss can often be a sign of pancreatic cancer, along with cancer of the stomach, esophagus, and lungs.
HIV and AIDS
Unexplained weight loss accompanied by wasting can also be an early sign of an HIV-related infection or disease. Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is a particularly virulent type of virus which destroys the immune system of the body and leaves it helpless to defend itself against any disease or infection.
An HIV infection can increase the rate of metabolism in the body and also affect the lining of the gut in a manner which prevents or inhibits the proper absorption of nutrients. This results in drastic weight loss and muscle wasting, which continue to get worse as the infection progresses.
Other symptoms of HIV/ Aids include:
• Appearance of rashes on the body
• Sore throat
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Extreme fatigue or tiredness
• Night sweats
• Mouth ulcers
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a breathing disorder caused by the inhalation of toxic fumes from smoking and air pollution. This causes chronic inflammation in the airways in the lungs, which in turn leads to progressive obstruction of airflow into the lungs.
Apart from causing breathing problems, this condition also causes weight loss and severe cardiovascular diseases including coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, myocardial infarction, angina, and congestive heart disease.
As COPD makes it hard for you to breath, a large part of your energy is expended in the breathing process. People with COPD burn 10 times more calories while breathing as compared to people who do not suffer from any lung disease. This leads to unintentional weight loss and in severe cases breathing problems caused by COPD can also lead to loss of appetite.
So, if you experience continuous unintentional weight loss, accompanied by breathing problems and fatigue, it is highly likely that you may be suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
Unexplained weight loss can also indicate a parasitic infection in your intestines.
Parasites such as Trichinella from under-cooked meat, hookworms from walking barefoot on tainted soil, pinworms, & tapeworms can survive in your intestines and go undetected for a long period of time.
Since, these are parasites they prey on the food in your intestines and prevent proper nutrient absorption. In case you experience continuous unexplained weight loss, accompanied by feelings of fatigue and weakness along with abdominal pain or cramps, you may have parasites in your gut.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which the intestines or bowels become inflamed, develop ulcers and sometimes even fistulas or are marked with sores.
This disease greatly reduces the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food; therefore, it can cause malnutrition and unintentional weight loss in the body despite regular food intake.
In fact, Crohn’s disease can also cause loss of appetite as the inflamed intestines can cause abdominal cramps while processing and passing food. Therefore, people associate eating with pain and undesirable symptoms due to other side-effects like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Clinical depression is a serious mental health disorder which is often accompanied by loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.
Depression is most often characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anger; accompanied by a sense of guilt, worthlessness and voluntary isolation from human society.Depression can also be caused by medical conditions like bipolar that cause fluctuations between extremely depressive and manic euphoric moods.
Other forms of depression include post-partum depression after childbirth, and seasonal depression which commonly affects people during the summer months.
Many times a person maybe depressed without knowing it, if you are constantly feeling tired and dejected and have noticed unintentional weight loss, you may need to get psychological analysis and help.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Unexplained weight loss can also be a sign of dementia in middle-aged women and the elderly. A 2011 study conducted by Jeffrey M. Burns et al. successfully proved the occurrence of weight loss during the early years of the onset of dementia.
Rapid weight loss can also be a very early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. A 2006 study conducted by Dr. D K Johnson and associates showed a conclusive connection between weight loss and dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT). Patients who developed DAT, underwent weight loss at twice the rate one year prior to official detection of DAT as compared to those who did not develop DAT.