Sudden, unwanted weight loss may indicate serious illness
Many people would be happy to lose some extra pounds, but a sudden weight loss - without adhering to a diet - can also indicate a serious illness, warns the German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases (DGVS). A doctor's visit is strongly advised here.
"If you lose more than ten percent of your weight within six months without a diet, you should contact your family doctor or a gastroenterologist," the DGVS said. Because in about a third of cases, weight loss goes hand in hand with diseases of the digestive tract, such as an infection, an intolerance or a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, medical clarification is also important to prevent symptoms of deficiency. According to the experts, weight loss should therefore be taken seriously as a warning signal.
Different causes of sudden weight loss
Unwanted weight loss is often an indication of gastrointestinal disorders, but other serious causes can also cause weight loss. "Of course, weight loss can also be caused by non-gastroenterological diseases, such as depression or problems with the dentures," emphasizes Professor Dr. med. Georg Lamprecht, chief physician of the department for gastroenterology, endocrinology and metabolic diseases at the University Hospital Rostock, in the press release of the DGVS. In addition to weight loss, symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation can be identified, but according to the expert, problems in the digestive tract are usually the trigger.
Digestive tract disorders
If the body is unable to adequately break down or absorb the nutritional components, doctors speak of a "malassimilation syndrome", the cause of which can be a whole range of diseases, some of which are common but also some rare, explains Prof. Lamprecht. This should best be clarified by a gastroenterologist, since the symptoms are often unspecific and the diagnosis is often a challenge. For example, abdominal pain and diarrhea can indicate celiac disease (gluten intolerance), chronic inflammatory bowel disease Crohn's disease or inflammation of the colon, a "microscopic colitis". In addition, diseases of the pancreas or the consequences of operations in the abdominal cavity, which may have been a long time ago, should be considered as causes.
Diagnosing unwanted weight loss is often difficult
To make the diagnosis easier, according to the expert, it is helpful if patients can describe their symptoms as precisely as possible. Questions about the temporal occurrence of the pain or a connection with food intake provide important information here. Doctors will also inquire whether the stool is particularly watery or whether diarrhea and constipation alternate. Laboratory examinations of blood, urine and stool as well as imaging methods are possible diagnostic tools. If necessary, tissue can also be removed from the stomach or intestine and examined for pathological changes, explains Prof. Lamprecht.
Early countermeasures required
The expert further emphasizes that in addition to the more common clinical pictures, rare diseases should also be considered. For example, damage to the intestinal tissue in the form of so-called radiation enteritis could occur decades after radiation treatment. "The first step is to recognize the problem, seek medical help and thus prevent impending deficiency symptoms in good time," emphasizes Prof. Because, according to the expert, digestive diseases not only lead to weight loss, but the body is also not able to get enough minerals and vitamins and absorb trace elements, which makes patients feel tired and inefficient. "The faster we can take countermeasures, the better," says Prof. (fp)