Should you worry about unexplained weight loss?

Shedding kilos unintentionally may be a sign of a health problem.

weight loss

Weight loss is usually something to strive for, but when it starts happening for no discernible reason it can be a cause for concern.

It is normal for your weight to fluctuate during the year, gaining weight over winter when you may be less active while eating stodgier meals, and conversely losing weight over summer when you intensify your fitness regimen while your diet changes to lighter meals.

There are, of course, limits to what is understood as normal fluctuation. You will most likely know when your weight gain is outside the norm, but it can be a little more difficult to know when to start worrying about weight loss.

Generally, if you lose five per cent of your body weight in a six-month period and you can’t pinpoint a reason for the loss (change of diet, increased physical activity, stomach bug, etc), it can be an early warning sign of a serious health problem.

Unexplained weight loss and fatigue are two of the most common symptoms of a progressive illness.

Here are five common conditions that can cause unexplained weight loss:

1. Diabetes
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which you may have high blood glucose levels (blood sugar) either because sufficient insulin is not produced in your body or because your body does not respond properly to insulin, or even both. You might also be making more frequent trips to the toilet and finding yourself increasingly thirsty. Diabetes can cause your body to suck nourishment from your muscles, fuelling your weight loss.

2. Thyroid issues
Weight loss is a common symptom of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and can be accompanied by increased hunger, heart palpitations, sleeping problems and feeling hot all the time. Around one in 20 people will experience some form of thyroid dysfunction in their lifetime. The most common cause is Graves' disease, which is due to an immune system abnormality. Other causes of an overactive thyroid include local inflammation (thyroiditis), nodules or lumps. There is no cure for hyperthyroidism, but it can be successfully managed with treatments such as anti-thyroid medication.

3. Cancer
Cancer is often the first thing people think of when they suffer any unexplained weight loss. While it is true that weight loss can be an early warning sign for many different types of cancer, you should look for other symptoms before jumping to conclusions. Lumps or thickening under the skin, sores or ulcers that don’t heal, coughs that won’t go away, changes in bowel or bladder habits or blood in your stool are all further symptoms to look out for if you are worried about cancer.

4. Depression
Depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for weeks or longer. Beyond Blue explains that older people with depression tend to present with unexplained weight loss as a symptom more frequently than younger people do. An older person is more likely to present to their GP with various physical complaints and difficulty sleeping rather than complaints of sadness or low mood.

5. Polymyalgia rheumatica
Polymyalgia rheumatica is a condition causing pain and stiffness in older adults. As well as unexplained weight loss, other typical symptoms include moderate-to-severe muscle pain and stiffness, particularly affecting the neck, shoulders and thighs. The onset is usually sudden. People aged 50 years and over are most commonly affected by polymyalgia rheumatica, and it becomes more common as people get older. The condition can be easily treated with corticosteroids, pain-relieving medications, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

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    11:44pm
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