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Woman exercising with weights

Weight Loss


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is weight loss?

Weight loss as a symptom is any loss of weight that you cannot explain, or that you did not plan or work for through increased diet control and exercise. Weight loss as a symptom can be caused by diseases affecting almost any part of the body, including ongoing infections, AIDS, cancers, depression, painful mouth sores, missing teeth, chronic liver disease, kidney disease, respiratory disease, thyroid disease, heart disease, and chronic diarrhea or other digestive disorders. It can also be caused by loss of appetite due to dementia and by certain eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia as well as malnutrition.

Some drugs are also known to cause abnormal weight loss. These include amphetamines, chemotherapeutic agents, and thyroid medications. Drug abuse involving excessive use of purgatives and laxatives, heavy street drug use, or smoking is also known to cause abnormal weight loss. Rapid or persistent weight loss is very dangerous and can cause severe damage to multiple organs and should always be investigated as soon as possible.

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Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have heart arrhythmias; dizziness or wooziness; vomiting blood; dehydration; severe vomiting; severe diarrhea; severe abdominal pain; difficulty breathing; or confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment.

If your weight loss is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 26, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Weight loss - unintentional. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  2. Appetite - decreased. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
  4. Ferri FF. Ferri’s Differential Diagnosis, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2011.
  5. Vanderschueren S, Geens E, Knockaert D, Bobbaers H. The diagnostic spectrum of unintentional weight loss. Eur J Intern Med 2005; 16:160.
  6. McMinn J, Steel C, Bowman A. Investigation and management of unintentional weight loss in older adults. BMJ 2011; 342:d1732.

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