Intentional weight loss through dieting and exercise is normal. It is also normal to lose some weight after stressful events such as loss of a job or a divorce. However, unexplained weight loss in men could be a source of concern. It could be a manifestation of an underlying issue that requires urgent attention. Below are common causes of unexplained weight loss in men including indicators that you need to see a doctor.
Weight Loss in Men
Most men will have a noticeable loss of weight after certain events in their life. In this case weight usually, returns to normal after getting used to that change or when the stressor is effectively managed.
Weight loss in men can be as a result of losing fluid mass, muscle mass or fat mass. A reduction in body fluid is caused by lack of fluid intake, increased fluid loss from medications or illnesses.
Loss of fat or muscle mass is often associated with lack of proper nutrition or presence of a chronic illness.
How Much Weight Loss is Concern?
We all experience regular fluctuations in weight throughout the year. While this is considered normal, unintentional persistent weight loss of more than 5% of your weight is a cause for concern.
Unexplained Weight Loss in Men
What is unexplained weight loss? This is a term used to describe an unintentional decrease in weight. It is the loss of weight even without trying to. It may sudden or over a period of time. Unexplained weight loss is the loss of 10pounds or more than 5% of your normal body weight over a period of 6-12 months.
Throughout the year body fluctuates up or down. This can be due to either medical or non- medical causes and sometimes due to a combination of things that may not be weight related.
Potential Causes of Unexplained Weight Loss in Men
It is important to note that these causes should not be used for self-diagnosis.
- Substance abuse
- Dental and oral problems such as loss of teeth and mouth ulcers
- Dysphagia- difficulty in swallowing
- Abdominal problems such as stomach ulcers and coeliac disease
- Chronic diarrhea
- Parasitic infections
- Chronic inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Undiagnosed hormonal diseases such as diabetes and Addison’s disease
- Organ diseases; kidney, heart, and liver
- Change in diet such as cutting out junk foods, eating less or vegetarianism
- Hyperthyroidism/ hypothyroidism
- Changes in the senses of smell and taste
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Some medications
- Parkinson’s disease
Less common causes of unexplained weight loss in men
- Removal of part of the small intestine
- Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa that have not been diagnosed yet
Sudden unintentional weight loss does not always have an unidentifiable cause and may be due to;
- Mental illnesses such as depression
- Medications for hypothyroidism and chemotherapy
- Undiagnosed Cancers
Unexplained Weight Loss Cancer
For up to 40% of patients with cancer, unexplained weight loss is the first noticeable sign that things are not okay. The American cancer society states most people with cancer will lose weight at some point. Often, weight loss of 10pounds or more within a short time may the first sign of undiagnosed cancer. This is common with cancers that affect the stomach, esophagus, lung or the pancreas.
The rate of weight loss depends on the types of cancer and organs that are affected. Often weight loss is accompanied by reduced intake of food due to difficulty in swallowing and chewing or lack of appetite.
Unexplained weight loss in men is not always a sign of cancer. However, it is important to consult a doctor for an examination to determine the real cause.
Dietary Changes and Weight Loss
If you recently changed your eating habits such as eating less, vegetarianism or cutting out all junk food, you could lose a few pounds. A vegan diet creates a drop in your caloric intake. If you are concerned that this may be the reason why you are losing weight, consult a dietician for review on which foods to eat and healthy eating habits.
Aging and Weight Loss
With age, a number of body functions change. The senses of taste and smell which greatly influence your indulgence in food change.
It is also more likely that older men take medications for a number of problems. The drugs often cause side effects such as nausea and may alter the sense of taste making food unpalatable. Ask your doctor for review if current meds affect your eating habits.
Older men may experience a general reduction in appetite. In this case, try to get the best nutrition from rich foods that you like on days that you feel your best.
Unexplained Weight Loss and Diabetes
Insulin is responsible for metabolic reactions that allow glucose to be absorbed from the bloodstream to the cells to be used as energy. In diabetics, insufficient insulin prevents the body from getting enough glucose to be used up for energy production. When this happens, the body begins to burn fat and muscle as an alternative source of energy thus a reduction of body weight.
This is commonly seen in people with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes.
When to call a doctor
If you have not changed your diet or exercise routine and you keep dropping on weight readings, talk to your doctor. He or she will take your history to determine any changes that may point towards weight loss. If necessary, he/she will do a series of lab or radiological tests to rule out possible causes.
A health care provider will suggest a program or changes in your diet depending on the cause of unexplained weight loss. Consult a doctor if you
- Experience unexplained weight loss of 5% or more within a period of 6-12 months
- Have accompanying symptoms such as fatigue and loss of appetite
- You or a family member has drastic emotional changes
Unexplained weight loss in men is not normal. Whether minor or grand, have the cause determined as soon as possible for better management.
NHS Choices on Unintentional Weight Loss http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/unexpected-weight-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Livestrong on Sudden Weight Loss in Men http://www.livestrong.com/article/292546-sudden-weight-loss-in-men/
Diabetes COUK on Unexplained Weight Loss http://www.diabetes.co.uk/symptoms/unexplained-weight-loss.html
The New York Times Weight Loss- Unintentional http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/symptoms/weight-loss-unintentional/overview.html?mcubz=0
Cancer.net on Unexplained Weight Loss http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/side-effects/weight-loss