Unexplained weight loss, or losing weight without trying — particularly if it's significant or persistent — may be a sign of an underlying medical disorder.
The point at which unexplained weight loss becomes a medical concern is not exact. But many doctors agree that a medical evaluation is called for if you lose more than 5 percent of your weight in six months to a year, especially if you're an older adult. For example, a 5 percent weight loss in someone who is 160 pounds (72 kilograms) is 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms). In someone who is 200 pounds (90 kilograms), it's 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).
Your weight is affected by your calorie intake, activity level, overall health, age, nutrient absorption, and economic and social factors.
Unexplained weight loss
Usually, an unrecognized cancer will have other symptoms or abnormalities of laboratory tests, in addition to unexplained weight loss.
Potential causes of unexplained weight loss include:
- Addison's disease (adrenal insufficiency)
- Celiac disease
- Changes in diet or appetite
- Changes in sense of smell
- Changes in sense of taste
- Crohn's disease
- Dental problems
- Heart failure
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Parkinson's disease
- Peptic ulcer
- Substance abuse (alcohol, cocaine, other)
- Ulcerative colitis
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.