Cachexia: The Wasting Disease Associated With Chronic Illness

cachexiaCachexia is a devastating condition that causes the body to essentially waste away. And a number of conditions that often affect people with fibromyalgia can lead to cachexia. If you’re suffering from some of these related conditions, it’s probably a good idea to be aware of the risk. So, let’s cover what you need to know about the condition, how it can be related to conditions common in people with fibromyalgia, and what you can do to treat it.

What Is Cachexia?

We aren’t entirely sure what causes the condition, but the best theory we have at the moment is that it’s related to something called cytokines. Cytokines are a type of protein that helps tell your cells what to do. And they play an especially important role in controlling the immune system.

When you have a condition that leads to cachexia, these cells multiply too rapidly and trigger the body to start losing weight.

But many people with the condition also seem to have unbalanced levels of hormones like testosterone. That suggests that the hormonal system might play a role in the condition as well. But the exact way this works isn’t well understood.

The most obvious symptom of cachexia is a sudden loss of body mass. Both fat and muscle tissue seem to waste away. A loss of more than 5% of your body weight with no explanation is generally a sign that the patient is suffering from cachexia. Over time, this loss of body mass can cause serious complications.

Your body needs a certain amount of fat to function properly. Fat plays some important roles in the body, like protecting vital organs and helping your body process vitamins. When you suffer from cachexia, these processes break down. Eventually, this can be fatal.

Cachexia And Fibromyalgia-related Conditions

There are a number of conditions that can lead to cachexia. The condition is especially common in people suffering from end-stage cancer. Cancer cachexia can seriously complicate treatment since it reduces the body’s ability to respond to normal cancer treatments. And there’s evidence that the tumors themselves are releasing the cytokines that cause the condition, which makes it hard to treat.

But cachexia can often result from autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. That makes it of special concern for people with fibromyalgia since there seems to be a link between fibromyalgia and autoimmune disease.

These autoimmune conditions cause widespread inflammation in the body as the immune cells attack the body’s tissue. Over time, this inflammation seems to trigger the release of extra cytokines. This might explain the link between cachexia and autoimmune conditions.

That’s why it’s important to manage conditions like rheumatoid arthritis with medication to reduce swelling. If not, there’s a risk of serious complications like cachexia.


Managing autoimmune conditions is usually done with anti-inflammatory drugs. One of the most common types of these medications is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This category includes things like aspirin and work by blocking the production of enzymes that trigger inflammation.

In addition, doctors often prescribe corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are a form of hormone that the body releases naturally to reduce inflammation. But doctors can give you artificial corticosteroids to help the body’s natural response.

When it comes to treating cachexia itself, the treatment depends on the underlying cause. Doctors can usually prescribe drugs to help block the production of cytokines. But it’s also important for the patient to eat enough to regain some of the lost body mass.

This can be difficult since many of the conditions that cause cachexia also reduce the appetite. So, doctors usually recommend appetite stimulants. Corticosteroids often have the side effect of increasing the appetite, but interestingly, medical marijuana is often a good option.

If you’ve ever tried marijuana, you might have noticed that it makes you really hungry. Regular marijuana users have long known about this particular side effect, usually calling it the “munchies.” Recently, we’ve discovered that some of the chemicals in marijuana, cannabinoids, are actually similar to the chemicals that your body produces to regulate hunger.

When you use marijuana, these chemicals bind to the same receptors in the brain that control hunger and trigger the desire to eat. So, while that might be a little annoying for marijuana enthusiasts, it actually makes the drug very useful for people who struggle with cachexia.

Depending on how much the muscles have wasted, someone with cachexia may also need long-term physical therapy to repair the damage. If you’re worried that you suffer from cachexia, or notice a sudden drop in body mass, you should see a doctor. Sudden weight loss is often a sign of a serious medical condition.

So, have you ever suffered from cachexia? Do you think it might have been tied to fibromyalgia? Let us know in the comments.