Unexplained weight loss can lead to death – Nutritionists

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Nutrition experts have warned that people who experience unexplained weight loss may be suffering from malnutrition, cancer, or cardiovascular diseases, among others and may lead to death.

They noted that an unexplained weight loss that is not well managed might worsen such underlying illness and may finally result in death.

The dieticians, in an interview with reporters said those who lose weight suddenly and for no apparent reason should be worried and consult medical experts to ascertain the cause.

A Senior Dietitian at Berkshire Health, United Kingdom, Deborah Ayodeji Ayodeji said unexplained weight loss can lead to death due to complications that could arise from diseases like cancer and kidney failure.

She noted that weight loss is most common during the early and middle stages of kidney disease.

“Unexplained Weight loss can often be linked to cancer, kidney failure especially among many more diseases because it is one of the most marked symptoms of these diseases.

“Research has shown that unexplained weight loss is frequently the first noticeable symptom of many cancers, for example, oesophagus, pancreas, stomach, and lung.

“This weight loss can happen as a result of poor dietary intake either caused by nausea, lack of appetite, or difficulty chewing or swallowing. Unexplained weight loss in cancer can also be caused by increased metabolism, loss of skeletal muscle, and fatigue, which can lead to poor dietary intake,” she said.

On how best to prevent and manage unexplained weight loss, the UK-based consultant dietitian said, “Prevention methods for unexplained weight loss include making sure to be on a balanced diet.

“Eat regular meals and healthy snacks during the day that are sufficient to meet your needs. They must consist of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats eaten in the right proportion.

“If you are finding it difficult to eat right, consult a registered dietitian who can give you professional advice or devise a meal plan for you.

“If you notice a change in your appetite or you are struggling to eat, consult your doctor who can conduct the necessary examinations and screen for any underlying disease.

“Always go for regular medical health checks at least once or twice in a year. If you notice that you are losing weight or experiencing other symptoms of illnesses, consult your doctor.”

A Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist at Diet234, a telenutriton platform that promotes healthy diets, Obianuju Orjiekwe-Ezenkwele, said people should be concerned if they dropped more than 5 per cent of their body weight in a six-month period.

While explaining that someone with cancer can experience unexplained weight loss, the dietician noted that cancer is a degenerative disease that necessitates an increase in the number of calories needed by the body.

“Disease conditions such as cancer can lead to weight loss because cancer is a degenerative disease and demands an increase in the number of calories needed by the body. Furthermore, these diseases can lead to loss of appetite, when less food is consumed, it leads to weight loss.

“It is prevented by going for a period of medical check-ups to rule out any underlying diseases that could cause unexplained weight loss.

“Early detection and adequate management of diseases can prevent disease progression. Nutrition education and counselling play an active role in creating awareness of adequate food consumption to suit individuals’ dietary needs in health and disease management,” she said.

Meanwhile, a new study found that unintentional weight loss is a chronic illness symptom that often goes undetected in primary care offices.

New research found that unintentional weight loss is a common problem that frequently coincides with chronic illnesses like cancer, and often goes undetected in primary care offices.

Researchers from University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University analyzed the electronic health records of 1.5 million adults collected between January 2020 and December 2021.

They identified 29,494 patients who had two weight measurements recorded during the study period and of those, 290 (1%) experienced UWL. UWL was also detected by physicians in only 60 patients (21%).

The researchers found that UWL was more likely to be identified in older patients, and among those diagnosed with UWL, the most common follow-up tests ordered were complete blood count, complete metabolic profile, and thyroid stimulating hormone level.

It was discovered that five patients were diagnosed with cancer within a year of experiencing UWL— weight loss was recognised in three of the patients and undetected in two of them.

In another 2017 study published on the National Library of Medicine Open Access titled, ‘Unintentional weight loss: Clinical characteristics and outcomes, researchers discovered that unexplained weight loss seldom constitutes a short-term medical alert, and its presence may be undetectable until death.

The researchers from the Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital Clínic, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, suggested that patients should be followed up regularly, and autopsies pursued when facing unsolved deaths, stressing that many were due to unexplained weight loss.

According to the researchers, “During the study, 2677 patients were enrolled and referred to an outpatient diagnosis unit for evaluation of UWL as a dominant or isolated feature of the disease. Eligible patients underwent a standard baseline evaluation with laboratory tests and chest X-rays. Patients without identifiable causes 6 months after presentation underwent a systematic follow-up lasting for 60 further months.

“In the 2677 patients prospectively enrolled over a period of two years and six months after being referred to a diagnosis clinic of an academic hospital in Barcelona for the evaluation of UWL, and who underwent a systematic baseline and follow-up approach, 37% had nonmalignant organic disorders, 33% had cancer, and 16% had psychosocial disorders.

“Age-related differences were found to be significant with oral illnesses ranking second among causes of UWL in patients under 65 years old, just behind non-hematologic malignancies.”

The study found that 19 of the 375 patients with unexplained UWL had ‘hidden’ malignancies found during a thorough follow-up of up to 5.5 years after presentation, with all cases being diagnosed within 28 months after it.

This is despite the fact that 375 patients or 14% of the population were initially diagnosed with unexplained UWL because a cause could not be identified within the first 6 months.

“Importantly, in 14 cases, the diagnosis was determined at necropsy. Therefore, even though unexplained UWL is rarely a reason for an immediate medical concern, serious underlying diseases may not be discovered until death, so these individuals should be closely monitored with annual visits,” the researchers stated.




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