Health Information

Weight loss - unintentional

Weight loss - unintentional


Loss of weight; Losing weight without trying

Unexplained weight loss is a decrease in body weight, when you did not try to lose the weight on your own.

Many people gain and lose some weight during any year. Loss of 10 pounds OR 5% of your normal body weight over 6-12 months or less, and you don't know the reason.

This problem may also be called unintentional weight loss.

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    A loss of appetite may be due to:

    • Feeling depressed
    • Cancer, even when other symptoms are not present
    • Chronic infection such as AIDS
    • Chronic illness, such as COPD or Parkinson disease
    • Drugs, including chemotherapy drugs, and thyroid medications
    • Drug abuse such as amphetamines and cocaine
    • Stress or anxiety

    Chronic digestive system problems that decrease the amount of calories and nutrients your body absorbs, including:

    • Diarrhea and other infections that last a long time, such as parasites
    • Chronic swelling or infection in the pancreas
    • Removal of part of the small intestine
    • Overuse of laxatives

    Other causes such as:

    • Eating disorders, anorexia nervosa that have not been diagnosed yet
    • Diabetes that have not been diagnosed
    • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Home Care

    Your healthcare provider may suggest changes in your diet and exercise program depending on the cause of your weight loss.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You or a family member loses more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height.
    • You have lost more than 10 pounds OR 5% of your normal body weight over 6-12 months or less, and you don't know the reason.
    • You have other symptoms along with the weight loss.
  • What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    The health care provider will do a physical exam and check your weight. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:

    • How much weight have you lost?
    • When did the weight loss begin?
    • Has the weight loss occurred quickly or slowly?
    • Are you eating less?
    • Are you eating different foods?
    • Are you exercising more?
    • Have you been sick?
    • Do you have any dental problems or mouth sores?
    • Do you have more stress or anxiety than usual?
    • Have you vomited? Did you make yourself vomit?
    • Are you fainting?
    • Do you have occasional uncontrollable hunger with palpitations, tremor, and sweating?
    • Have you had constipation or diarrhea?
    • Do you have increased thirst or are you drinking more?
    • Are you urinating more than usual?
    • Have you lost any hair?
    • What medicines are you taking?
    • Do you feel sad or depressed?
    • Are you pleased or concerned with the weight loss?

    You may need to see a dietitian for nutrition advice.

Related Information

  MetabolismEndocrine glands...Anorexia nervosa...     Eating disorders...


Bistrian BR. Nutritional assessment. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 221.


Review Date: 1/6/2013  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.


A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.