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Unexplained Weight Loss


Dr. Mansfield
Unexplained weight loss is a decrease in body weight when a person does not try to lose the weight. Dr. Patel, can you tell us more?

Dr. Patel
Absolutely, Dr. Mansfield. When a person loses 10 pounds or five percent of their normal body weight over six to 12 months without knowing the reason, there may be an underlying medical condition causing the weight loss. An underlying condition can cause weight loss directly, or it can cause a loss of appetite that leads to weight loss.

Digestive conditions often cause weight loss directly because they decrease the amount of calories and nutrients the body is able to absorb, or give the patient symptoms that make them not want to eat. Conditions that behave this way include:

  • Chronic diarrhea and other infections that last a long time, such as parasites
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Removal of part of the small intestine
  • Crohn's disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Gastroparesis
  • Constipation
  • Mass tumor in the digestive tract, and
  • Cancer of the esophagus, stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, or bile ducts

Non-gastrointestinal conditions that can cause a loss of appetite leading to weight loss can include:

  • Depression
  • Cancer, even when other symptoms are not present
  • Chronic infection such as AIDS
  • Chronic illness, such as Parkinson's disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD
  • Certain medications
  • Substance abuse, and
  • Stress or anxiety

Other conditions that can cause weight loss include:

  • Eating disorders that have not been diagnosed
  • Diabetes that has not been diagnosed or well-controlled, and
  • Overactive thyroid gland