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What causes unexplained weight loss?

Unexplained weight loss occurs when people lose weight without changing their diet or exercise routine. Most people are very aware of the dangerous consequences of weight gain, and many articles focus on ways to lose weight. However, unintended weight loss can also jeopardize a person’s health or indicate an underlying medical condition.

People may gain or lose weight in response to seasonal changes or when facing important or stressful life changes, such as moving home or starting a new job. However, a person may wish to see a doctor if they experience significant weight loss that has no clear explanation.

In this article, learn about the possible causes of unexplained weight loss and when to see a doctor.


Several medical conditions can cause unexplained weight loss. People can help their doctor pinpoint the underlying cause by paying attention to any additional symptoms that they experience. The following problems and conditions may cause unexplained weight loss:


Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces more hormones than the body requires. People sometimes refer to this condition as an overactive thyroid.

The thyroid produces certain hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism, so an excess of these hormones often causes the body to burn more energy than usual. Burning more energy and calories can lead to unintentional or unexplained weight loss.

Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:


The symptoms of depression can also cause weight loss. In a 2017 prospective study, researchers examined the causes of unexplained weight loss in 2,677 adults. They identified depression as the underlying cause in 7% of the participants.

According to the researchers behind a 2016 study, there is evidence to suggest that people with depression may have associated suppressed interplay among the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, which may affect the function of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Changes to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland can also affect the adrenal glands, which produce multiple hormones. These hormones include cortisol, which helps regulate blood pressure, blood glucose level, and metabolism.

Other symptoms of depression include:

  • persistent or recurring feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or apathy
  • changes in appetite, such as eating more or less than usual
  • unintentional weight loss or weight gain

Addison’s disease

Addison’s disease is most commonly due to a rare autoimmune disease that harms the adrenal glands and prevents them from producing enough cortisol and aldosterone.

People who have Addison’s disease might notice a decrease in their appetite as well as unexplained weight loss, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Other symptoms of Addison’s disease include:

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