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Unintentional Weight Loss Causes and Risks

Expertly reviewed by Chris Icamen · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Sep 22, 2022

Unintentional Weight Loss Causes and Risks

At first glance, unintentional weight loss might sound like a great thing. After all, losing weight is a difficult thing to do. But the reality is that unintentional weight loss may cause a lot of health problems, and more often than not, it should be a cause for concern.

Unintentional Weight Loss: Causes

Most of the time, people make changes in their lifestyle if they want to lose weight. This includes exercising and changing their diet to eat healthier foods.

On the other hand, unintentional or unexplained weight loss happens when a person loses 4.5kg or more for no apparent reason.

Unintentional weight loss causes can vary from person to person, but in general, it is a cause for concern.

Any of the following things can potentially trigger unintentional weight loss:


In the case of cancer, other symptoms usually appear before someone with cancer experiences unintentional weight loss. However, the symptoms of cancer vary from person to person, as well as where the cancer is found.

So it is not highly unlikely for a person to experience unintentional weight loss as an initial symptom of cancer.

The weight loss happens as a result of cancer cells multiplying, which uses more of the body’s nutrition. Pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, and esophageal cancer are some of the cancers that could have unintentional weight loss as a symptom.

Anxiety or depression

Anxiety or depression are both possible causes of unintentional weight loss.

This is because people with depression or anxiety can sometimes lose their appetite, and not even notice that they are not eating as much.

It is important for people with anxiety or depression to seek help to make sure that they are not neglecting their physical and mental health.

Chronic illness

Chronic illness, such as Parkinson’s disease, or COPD can both cause unexpected weight loss in patients with these conditions.

This is because these illnesses can cause people to lose their appetite, and can even lead to malnutrition, which makes their symptoms worse.

Chronic infection

Another illness that can cause unintentional weight loss is having a chronic infection such as HIV or AIDS. Chronic infections can affect the way a person absorbs nutrition from their food, which can in turn lead to weight loss and malnutrition.

Alcohol dependence

One of the various unintentional weight loss causes is alcohol dependence. Drinking too much alcohol can cause people to suffer from pain in their stomach, which can cause them to eat less.

Sometimes, alcoholics avoid eating altogether entirely and just keep drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol causes weight loss because unlike food, which gets stored in the body as energy, alcohol goes directly into the liver.

Liver damage from alcoholism can also cause health problems, which can lead to unintentional weight loss.

Type 2 Diabetes

The most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, extreme thirst, tiredness, and unintentional weight loss. This combination of symptoms should be a cause of concern because it could probably mean that you have type 2 diabetes.

The weight loss that comes with diabetes also has something to do with glucose or sugar in the blood being passed out of the body along with urine.


Hyperthyroidism, or a condition where the thyroid produces an excess of the hormone thyroxine, is another possible cause of weight loss.

Thyroxine can jumpstart a person’s metabolism, which can cause them to feel restless, nervous, anxious, emotional, irritable, and also experience weight loss.

One symptom of hyperthyroidism is having a large appetite, but seemingly not gaining a lot of weight.

This is because of the body’s fast metabolism, which can cause a person to quickly become hungry, but also to quickly burn through the energy reserves that they get from food.

What Risks Come with Unintentional Weight Loss?

The risks of unintentional weight loss can vary depending on the causes. However, ignoring this symptom can seriously affect a person’s health.


The most common complication of unintentional weight loss is malnutrition.

Malnutrition is a condition that results from not having enough food or nutrients in a person’s diet. This can be especially dangerous because our body needs nutrition in order to function properly.

Being malnourished can also make a person’s current health problems worse, which leads to further weight loss and malnutrition. Malnutrition can also result in a serious lack of important vitamins and minerals, and can even cause the body’s functions to shut down if a person gets severely malnourished.

What Can I Do About it?

The best way to deal with unintentional weight loss would be to treat the underlying condition that is causing you to lose weight.

This is why it is important to get in touch with your doctor first. If the possible cause can be identified, then treatment can be provided.

However, if the possible cause is not evident early on, your doctor might prescribe a special diet. Afterward, your symptoms will be monitored to see if any changes happen.

Your doctor might also ask you to take tests such as a blood test or a urine test. This can also help identify what the possible causes of your weight loss could be.

Key Takeaways

When it comes to unintentional weight loss, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The underlying causes may need immediate attention.

Learn more about Diet and Weight Loss here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Expertly reviewed by

Chris Icamen

Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Sep 22, 2022

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