Unintentional weight loss
Sudden, noticeable weight loss can happen after a stressful event. It can also be a sign of a serious illness. The information on this page may give you a better idea of the cause of your weight loss. Don't use it to diagnose yourself. See your GP for a diagnosis.
About unintentional weight loss
It is often normal to lose a noticeable amount of weight after, for example, the stress of changing jobs, divorce, redundancy or bereavement.
Weight often returns to normal when you begin to feel happier. This can be after you've had time to grieve or get used to the change.
If you think you may have anorexia, try to seek help as soon as possible.
You could start by talking to a person you trust, such as a member of your family or a friend. You could perhaps ask them to go with you to see your GP.
There are also several organisations you can talk to for information and advice, such as the eating disorders charity Eating Disorders Association.
If your weight loss wasn't due to the above causes, and you didn't lose weight through dieting or exercising, see your GP. This is because you may have a health condition that needs to be treated.
How much weight loss is a concern
Your body weight can regularly fluctuate. But the persistent, unintentional loss of more than 5 per cent of your weight over 6 to 12 months is usually a cause for concern.
Losing this much weight can be a sign of malnutrition. This is when a person's diet doesn't contain the right amount of nutrients.
Other symptoms linked to unintentional weight loss can include:
- loss of appetite
- a change in your toilet habits
- an increase in illnesses or infections
Other common causes of unexpected weight loss
Unintentional weight loss doesn't always have an identifiable underlying cause. As well as the causes mentioned above, it's often the result of:
- an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), or over-treating an underactive thyroid
Less common causes of unexpected weight loss
Less often, unexpected weight loss may be the result of:
- the side effects of certain medications
- alcohol misuse or drug misuse
- heart, kidney, lung or liver disease
- a problem with the glands that secrete hormones – such as Addison's disease or undiagnosed diabetes
- a long-term inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
- dental problems – such as losing teeth, having new orthodontics or mouth ulcers
- a condition that causes dysphagia (swallowing problems)
- a disease of the gut, such as a stomach ulcer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or coeliac disease
- a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection, such as persistent gastroenteritis, tuberculosis (TB) or HIV and AIDS
- dementia – people with dementia may be unable to communicate their eating needs
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.