Reasons For Unintentional Weight Loss

Are you losing weight, when you are not looking to lose weight? Many people gain or lose weight.

Unintentional weight loss is the loss of 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) or 5% of your normal body weight for 6 to 12 months or less without knowing the reason.


A loss of appetite:

  • Depression.
  • Cancer, even when there are no other symptoms.
  • Chronic infections such as AIDS.
  • Chronic diseases such as COPD or Parkinson’s disease.
  • Drugs, including those used in chemotherapy, or antithyroid drugs.
  • Consumption of illicit drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine
  • Stress or anxiety.

Chronic digestive system problems:

  • Diarrhea and other infections that last a long time, such as parasites.
  • Chronic inflammation or infection of the pancreas.
  • Extraction of some part of the small intestine.
  • Excessive use of laxatives.

Other causes

  • Eating disorders, undiagnosed anorexia nervosa.
  • Undiagnosed diabetes.
  • Hyperactive thyroid gland.

Treating unintentional weight loss at home

Your health care provider may suggest changes in your diet. They may also suggest an exercise program depending on the cause of the weight loss.

When to contact a medical professional

Call your doctor if:

  • You or a family member loses more weight than what is normal for your age and height.
  • You have lost more than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) OR 5% of normal body weight in 6 to 12 months or less, and there is no explanation.
  • There have been other symptoms besides weight loss.

What you can expect in the doctor’s office

The medical practitioner will perform a physical exam and check your weight. He or she will ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as:

  • How much weight have you lost?
  • When did the weight loss begin?
  • Has weight loss occurred suddenly or slowly?
  • Are you eating less?
  • Are you eating different foods?
  • Are you exercising more?
  • Have you been ill?
  • Do you have dental problems or mouth ulcers?
  • Do you have more stress or anxiety than usual?
  • Have you vomited?
  • Do you have fainting spells?
  • Do you have uncontrollable hunger with palpitations, tremors, and sweating?
  • Have you had constipation or diarrhea?
  • Do you have increased thirst or are you drinking more fluids?
  • Are you urinating more than usual?
  • Have you lost any hair?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Do you feel sad or suffer from depression?
  • Are you pleased or worried about losing weight?

You may need to see a dietitian to receive nutritional advice. Any of the above also relates to weight loss; losing weight without intending to; Unexplained weight loss.


Bistrian BR. Nutritional assessment. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 214.

McQuaid KR. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 132.

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