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Unplanned Weight Loss

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Topic Overview

What is unplanned weight loss?

Unplanned weight loss means losing weight without trying to. It may be caused by a medical problem, so be sure to see your doctor if you are losing weight without trying.

If you are losing weight because you're exercising more or eating less, it is considered normal weight loss.

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What causes unplanned weight loss?

Lots of medical problems can cause you to lose weight without trying. These include an overactive thyroid gland, long-term infections, mouth or throat problems that make it hard to eat, digestive problems, depression, diabetes, COPD, and cancer.

Other causes of unplanned weight loss include prescription and over-the-counter medicines, alcohol or drug abuse, and emotional stress and anxiety.

In older adults, memory problems such as dementia can lead to weight loss.

How is it treated?

If another problem is causing your weight loss, your doctor will treat that problem. Your doctor may also suggest a change in what you eat. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medicines that help you gain weight.

What can you do to gain weight?

Talk to your doctor about what you can do to gain weight. Your doctor may suggest that you see a dietitian, who can help you develop a meal plan that fits your lifestyle. Avoid using expensive supplements for quick weight gain.

If your doctor says it's okay, find ways to eat more high-calorie, nutritious foods. These foods include:

  • Cheese. Put cheese on crackers or sandwiches, or add it to soups and salads. Eat string cheese as a snack.
  • Dried fruits or nuts. Put dried fruit on cereal or in salads or yogurt. Put nuts on mashed potatoes or ice cream or in a gravy.
  • Granola bars. Carry them with you as a snack.
  • Peanut butter. Use it in a sandwich, or spread it on bread, bagels, bananas, or celery.

When should you call the doctor?

Talk to your doctor if:

  • You've been losing weight and don't know why. If you lose 10 lb (4.5 kg) or 5% of your weight over 6 to 12 months without trying to, it may be a sign of another problem.
  • You see any changes in bowel habits. These may include changes in how often you have a bowel movement, the color and size of your stools, and how solid they are.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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