Reduction in either body mass or body fat is termed as weight loss. In extreme weight loss cases such as due to starvation, there is also a loss of protein or lean mass. Weight loss may either be intentional, like when a person is on dieting or exercising or unintentional when it is due to some pathology.
When it comes to weight loss, there are multiple factors that play an important role. Body weight has a strong influence on the amount of energy we consume and that we use in our daily activities. So when a person burns the equal calories as he is taking in, he is not going to lose or gain any weight. Consumption of extra calories results in fat accumulation in the body. Thus, for individuals seeking ways to lose weight, they can either reduce the amount of food intake or increase the physical activity to burn more calories to lose fat.
When talking about unintentional weight loss, it could be due to a number of medical conditions such as:
- Illnesses that tend to raise the metabolic demands (like hyperthyroidism)
- Diseases that can lead to dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or a loss of appetite (e.g., GIT tumours)
- Diseases of the gastrointestinal system that can result in malabsorption of nutrients (e.g., peptic ulcer)
- Conditions that cause excessive loss of nutrients (such as chronic diarrhoea or vomiting)
Tests and Diagnosis
Weight loss is generally a vague symptom and could be due to several underlying causes. Your doctor would request multiple tests to rule out the cause of weight loss. These tests may include
- Blood culture
- Complete blood picture
- Thyroid hormone test
- PPD test for tuberculosis
- Tumour markers to detect any cancerous growth
- Growth hormone test in young children
A good physician would also make a nutritional assessment to find out any essential macro or micronutrient deficiency.
As weight loss is not a disease itself, its treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Patients who are diagnosed with any medical conditions are referred to a specific healthcare professional to manage the cause. To evaluate your nutritional status and if you are receiving adequate nutrition, your physician may also consult a dietician or nutritionist. For a non-serious underlying cause, an upbuilding diet rich in fat, protein, and nutrients is often recommended.