Home > Diseases and Conditions > Weight loss - unintentional
  • We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Weight loss - unintentional

Loss of weight; Losing weight without trying

Last reviewed: January 6, 2013.

Unexplained weight loss is a decrease in body weight, when you did not try to lose the weight on your own.

Many people gain and lose some weight during any year. Loss of 10 pounds OR 5% of your normal body weight over 6-12 months or less, and you don't know the reason.

This problem may also be called unintentional weight loss.

Common Causes

A loss of appetite may be due to:

  • Feeling depressed
  • Cancer, even when other symptoms are not present
  • Chronic infection such as AIDS
  • Chronic illness, such as COPD or Parkinson disease
  • Drugs, including chemotherapy drugs, and thyroid medications
  • Drug abuse such as amphetamines and cocaine
  • Stress or anxiety

Chronic digestive system problems that decrease the amount of calories and nutrients your body absorbs, including:

Other causes such as:

  • Eating disorders, anorexia nervosa that have not been diagnosed yet
  • Diabetes that have not been diagnosed
  • Overactive thyroid gland

Home Care

Your healthcare provider may suggest changes in your diet and exercise program depending on the cause of your weight loss.

Call your health care provider if

Call your health care provider if:

  • You or a family member loses more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height.
  • You have lost more than 10 pounds OR 5% of your normal body weight over 6-12 months or less, and you don't know the reason.
  • You have other symptoms along with the weight loss.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The health care provider will do a physical exam and check your weight. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:

  • How much weight have you lost?
  • When did the weight loss begin?
  • Has the weight loss occurred quickly or slowly?
  • Are you eating less?
  • Are you eating different foods?
  • Are you exercising more?
  • Have you been sick?
  • Do you have any dental problems or mouth sores?
  • Do you have more stress or anxiety than usual?
  • Have you vomited? Did you make yourself vomit?
  • Are you fainting?
  • Do you have occasional uncontrollable hunger with palpitations, tremor, and sweating?
  • Have you had constipation or diarrhea?
  • Do you have increased thirst or are you drinking more?
  • Are you urinating more than usual?
  • Have you lost any hair?
  • What medicines are you taking?
  • Do you feel sad or depressed?
  • Are you pleased or concerned with the weight loss?

You may need to see a dietitian for nutrition advice.

References

  1. Bistrian BR. Nutritional assessment. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 221.

Review Date: 1/6/2013.

Reviewed by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Managing weight loss and fatigue in advanced illnessManaging weight loss and fatigue in advanced illness
    Fatigue and unintentional weight loss are two of the commonest symptoms experienced by people with advanced progressive illness and can be of great concern to those affected and of even greater concern to formal and informal caregivers. No robust information currently exists on optimal interventions to manage fatigue and/or weight loss in any advanced progressive illness. This overview presents what we know from research held within Cochrane systematic reviews on treatments to manage these symptoms in non curative illnesses such as advanced cancer, heart failure, lung failure, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, Parkinson's disease, dementia and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
See all (2) ...

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...