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J Intern Med. 2001 Jan;249(1):41-6.

Unintentional weight loss: diagnosis and prognosis. The first prospective follow-up study from a secondary referral centre.

Author information

1
Department of Internal Medicine, Municipal Clinic of L√ľneburg, L√ľneburg, Germany. lankisch@uni-lueneburg.de

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

To establish the incidence and causes of unintentional weight loss and to compare prognoses.

DESIGN:

Prospective.

SETTING:

Secondary referral centre.

SUBJECTS:

158 patients (89 female, 56%; 69 male, 44%) referred by general physicians for unexplained weight loss or for other reasons. In the latter case, weight loss was established after admission to hospital. Follow-up lasted for up to 3 years.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE:

Determining the course of weight loss in patients with diagnosed and undiagnosed causes.

RESULTS:

The cause of weight loss was established in 132 (84%) patients and remained unclear in 26 (16%). Reasons were non-malignant (60% of patients) and malignant (24%) diseases. Psychological disorders represented 11% of the non-malignant group. A gastrointestinal disease caused weight loss in 50 (30%) patients. Of malignant disorders, 53% (20 of 38 patients) were gastrointestinal. Amongst the non-malignant group, 39% (30 of 77 patients) had somatic disorders. The prognosis for unknown causes of weight loss was the same as for non-malignant causes.

CONCLUSION:

Contrary to common belief, weight loss is not usually due to a malignant disease. A gastrointestinal tract disorder accounts for weight loss in every third patient. If minimal diagnostic procedures cannot establish a diagnosis, then endoscopic investigation of the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract and function tests should be performed to exclude malabsorption.

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