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General Practice 2023

9 causes of quick weight loss (and when to worry)

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9 causes of quick weight loss (and when to worry)
9 causes of quick weight loss (and when to worry)

Weight loss should be a cause for concern when it occurs unintentionally, without the person realizing they are losing weight. Generally speaking, it is considered normal to lose weight after going through a stressful situation, such as changing jobs, ending a relationship, or losing a family member.

However, if weight loss is not linked to these factors and neither to diet or increased physical activity, it may indicate the presence of a he alth problem, such as thyroid disease, uncontrolled diabetes or even cancer.

Therefore, it is important to consult the general practitioner for an evaluation and diagnostic tests, in order to identify the cause of unintentional weight loss and initiate the most appropriate treatment, if necessary.


Possible causes

Unintentional weight loss for no apparent reason can occur due to several situations, such as:

  1. Presence of gastrointestinal disorders, such as Crohn's disease, ulcers, ulcerative colitis, chronic pancreatitis, mesenteric ischemia, or celiac disease;
  2. Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, or stroke;
  3. Endocrine disorders, such as hyperthyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, or uncontrolled diabetes;
  4. Lung diseases, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
  5. Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis or HIV;
  6. Heart disease, such as advanced heart failure;
  7. Psychological or psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia;
  8. Side effect of medications, such as antiepileptics, antidepressants, anxiolytics, diuretics, or laxatives;
  9. Cancer, being more common in multiple myeloma, leukemia or lymphoma.

In addition, excessive use of alcohol or drugs can also cause rapid and unintentional weight loss.

Weight loss can also have specific causes depending on age or specific life stages, such as:

1. In the elderly

Weight loss during aging is considered normal when it is slow, and is usually linked to lack of appetite, altered taste, or drug side effects. Another common reason is senile dementia, which makes the person forget to eat and eat properly.

In addition to weight loss, it is also normal for muscle mass loss to occur from the age of 50, mainly due to the reduction in the number of fibers that make up the muscles, decreased production of hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, in addition to reducing physical exercise, a situation known as sarcopenia.

Likewise, the elderly can also experience bone loss, which makes the bone more fragile, increasing the risk of bone fractures.

2. During pregnancy

Weight loss during pregnancy is not a normal situation, but it can occur mainly when the pregnant woman has a lot of nausea and vomiting at the beginning of pregnancy, not being able to eat adequate food, which leads to weight loss not intentional, this condition being called hyperemesis gravidarum. Understand better what hyperemesis gravidarum is.

In these cases, it is essential to consult both the obstetrician and a nutritionist to know what to do and avoid serious complications that could harm the growth of the fetus, as a he althy pregnant woman with normal weight is expected to increase 10 to 15 kg throughout pregnancy.

3. On the baby

Weight loss is common in newborns, who usually lose up to 10% of their body weight during the first 15 days of life, due to the expulsion of liquids through urine and feces.

From this period onwards, the baby is expected to increase about 250 g per week until 6 months of age and always increase in weight and height as age advances. If this does not happen, it is important that the baby is constantly monitored by the pediatrician so that there are no changes in its development process. See what is the ideal weight for boys and the ideal weight for girls.

What to do if you are losing weight

It is important to know the cause of unintentional weight loss so that the doctor can recommend the most appropriate treatment and, thus, prevent complications.

Therefore, in order to diagnose the cause of weight loss, the doctor must evaluate the symptoms presented and order tests according to the suspicions, such as blood, urine and stool tests, MRI or chest X-ray, continuing the investigation according to the results obtained.

Generally, the general practitioner is the first doctor to be consulted and only after the results of the exams they will be able to refer a specialist according to the cause of the problem, such as an endocrinologist, psychiatrist or oncologist, for example.

To help assess the cause of the problem, see the signs and symptoms that may indicate cancer.

When to worry

Weight loss is a concern when you lose, for no apparent reason, for no apparent reason, 5% or more of your normal body weight in a period of 6 to 12 months.

In addition, one should also be aware of signs such as tiredness, loss of appetite, changes in the rhythm of bowel functioning, bone pain, enlarged lymph nodes and an increase in the frequency of infections, such as flu, for example. In these cases, the general practitioner should be consulted for an evaluation, in order to prevent complications. Find out how the he alth check-up is performed.

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