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Unexplained Weight Loss: Should You See a Doctor?

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May 12, 2017 0 508 3 minutes, 58 seconds read
Dr Mukesh Mehra - Max Hospital
Associate Director - Internal Medicine
Internal Medicine

Unexplained weight loss is an important thing to be aware of. If you suddenly begin to lose weight and you're not sure why it may be the sign of an underlying health condition that may have developed. It can also be a signal that something about the way that you eat and exercise is not promoting a healthy body stasis. Being aware of weight loss and weight gain is a good way to avoid putting stress on your body. Only by recognising that you've had unexplained weight loss will you then be able to examine the reasons why this is happening.

Warning Signs to look out for with Unexplained Weight Loss

Weight Fluctuations

Losing weight without trying might sound like a dream come true, but in reality, it is a signal of a health problem. An unexplained drop in weight could be caused by the overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), diabetes, depression, liver disease, cancer or disorders that interfere with how your body absorbs nutrients (malabsorption disorders).

If you're not obese and you've lost more 4.5 kg, or more than 5 percent of your body weight, during the past six to 12 months, you need to see your doctor.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath could signal an underlying health problem. Causes for breathlessness might include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), as well as other heart and lung problems. Difficulty breathing can also occur with a panic attack — a sudden episode of intense anxiety that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.

Very strenuous exercise, extreme temperatures, massive obesity and high altitude, all can cause shortness of breath. Outside these examples, shortness of breath is likely to be a sign of a medical problem. If you find that you have unexplained shortness of breath, especially if it comes suddenly and you also have unexplained weight loss, see your doctor.

Unexplained changes in bowel habits

Changes in bowel habits could signal a bacterial infection such as campylobacter or salmonella infection or a viral or parasitic infection. Other possible causes include irritable bowel disease and colon cancer. Situations considered normal for bowel movements varies widely. See your doctor if you notice unusual or unexplained changes in what's normal for you and you also have unexplained weight loss.

Confusion or personality changes

See your doctor if you have sudden difficulty in focusing, sustaining or shifting attention, behaviour changes and you also have unexplained weight loss. These changes could be caused by many problems, including infection, poor nutrition, mental health conditions or medications.

Feeling full after eating very little

See your doctor if you consistently feel full sooner than normal or after eating less than usual. This feeling is known as early satiety also might be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, bloating or weight loss. If so, be sure to tell your doctor about these signs and symptoms as well and you also have unexplained weight loss.

Possible causes of early satiety include gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, and peptic ulcers. In some cases, a more serious problem such as pancreatic cancer could be a factor.

Flashes of light

Bright spots or flashes of light sometimes indicate a migraine. In other cases, sudden flashes of light could signal retinal detachment. If have this and you also have unexplained weight loss, get immediate medical care to help prevent permanent vision loss.

Diabetes causes weight loss

Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use glucose (sugar) for energy. If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin effectively. Your body can’t transport the glucose to the cells; instead, the glucose builds up in the blood. When the glucose doesn’t arrive in your cells, your body thinks it’s starving and finds a way to compensate. It creates energy by burning fat and muscle at a rapid pace causing unexplained weight loss.

Your kidneys also begin working overtime to eliminate the excess sugars in the blood. This uses additional energy and can cause damage to the kidneys. Type 1 diabetes has a similar pattern, but instead of being unable to use insulin, your body stops producing it altogether.

Unexplained weight loss can occur in people who have Type 2 diabetes, but it’s more commonly found in people with Type 1 diabetes. Parents are often the first to notice the unusual weight loss in a child with Type 1 diabetes.

Unexplained weight loss is not only a sign of diabetes but also may point to other issues such as cancer or problems with your gastrointestinal tract, metabolism or thyroid. If you are dropping weight and you don’t know why see your doctor as soon as possible. Don’t delay, book an appointment today at Max Healthcare.


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