January 23, 2009

Excessive weight loss tied to disease

A U.S. physician suggests doctors are not doing enough to pick up on problems associated with excessive weight loss -- a condition called cachexia.

Dr. John Morley, an endocrinologist at Saint Louis University who helped draft recent guidelines to diagnose cachexia -- published in the medical journal Clinical Nutrition -- said weight loss in sick people is an important indicator of disease and potentially impending death.

Cachexia is an extraordinary problem for people who are having other health problems, yet this is something that many physicians don't pay attention to, Morley said in a statement. The definition is important because it gives physicians the guidelines to make a diagnosis and treat the condition -- a definition of cachexia also makes it easier for scientists to conduct research and potentially develop new therapies for the problem.

About half of hospitalized patients, and between 10 percent and 15 percent of sick patients who see a doctor, have cachexia. The condition accompanies diseases such as cancer, congestive heart failure, HIV, diabetes, kidney failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Those who traditionally have had difficulty taking off weight and suddenly find the pounds melting off should beware, Morley said. They may be ill and could get even sicker as they become weaker and weaker, he said.