Authored by Revere Health

What’s Behind Your Unexplained Weight Loss?

November 17, 2017 | Weight Management

Some people try to lose weight and succeed, but in other cases, people can lose weight without trying. This is called unexplained weight loss, which is particularly notable if it’s significant or persistent over time. Unexplained weight loss can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that may need to be treated.

When is my weight loss a medical concern?

There is no exact point at which unexplained weight loss becomes a medical concern, but many doctors agree that if you lose more than five percent of your body weight in a period of time ranging from six months to a year, particularly if you’re an older adult, you should see a doctor.

Weight can be affected by a number of different factors, including calorie intake, activity level, overall health, age, nutrient absorption, and economic and social factors.

Causes of Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss has several causes, both medical and nonmedical. In many cases, a combination of factors leads to a general decline in health and weight loss that’s related to this.

Potential causes of unexplained weight loss may include:

  • Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency)
  • Cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Changes in diet or appetite
  • Changes in sense of smell or taste
  • COPD
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Dental issues
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Hypercalcemia
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Certain medications
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Substance abuse (alcohol, cocaine or others)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Ulcerative colitis

When to Seek Medical Attention

Any loss of at least five percent of your body weight in six months to a year of time is a red flag. If you’re an older adult with several underlying health issues or even just one or two serious conditions, even a smaller amount of unexplained weight loss could be a problem.

Your doctor will work with you to try and determine the cause of the weight loss using your medical history, a physical exam and potentially some lab testing. Imaging for hidden cancers may be used if other clues indicate that this may be the cause, but otherwise these aren’t very useful.

In some cases, if the basic evaluation doesn’t return any definitive results, waiting will be the next step. Your doctor may tell you to wait and keep an eye on things for one to six months, or may give you a special diet to prevent further weight loss or regain what you’ve already lost.

If you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss that’s trending toward a significant loss, your doctor can offer recommendations for finding the cause and providing treatment.



“CT scan (How you prepare).” The Mayo Clinic.

“Positron emission tomography scan (How you prepare).” The Mayo Clinic.

“MRI (How you prepare).” The Mayo Clinic.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.