Involuntary Weight Loss: The One You Don't Want
Involuntary weight loss is weight loss that you did not intend. In other words, you were not dieting or trying to loss the weight.
Involuntary weight loss of 5-10% of one's body weight is a "red flag" that something is amiss. You should immediately make an appointment with your physician to find the problem. If it's not you, but a family member then make them an immediate appointment for a check up.
Often those with involuntary weight loss are elderly adults but it can to happen to anyone.
There are three basic causes of weight loss. Decreased intake of food by intentional or unintentional dieting. Increased fluid-nutrient loss as can be found in malabsorption diseases (ie Crohn's disease) and diabetes. The third basic cause is excess metabolic demand as is often found with malignancies but also metabolic diseases such as hyperthyroid disease.
Your physician will take a complete history and do a physical exam. Initial laboratory tests will commonly include CBC, HIV, blood chemistry, urinalysis, stool guaiac (checking for blood in the stool), thyroid function, chest x-ray and routine recommended cancer screening (ie mammogram to check for breast cancer, colonoscopy or abdominal CT scan).
Approximately one fourth of patients will have a medical cause (ie thyroid disease, diabetes, etc), one fourth will have a malignancies (ie colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, etc), one fourth will have depression or some psychiatric disease, and in the other fourth no cause will be found.