Unexplained Weight Loss: What does it have to do with diabetes?
If you ask a lot of people, they’ll tell you that a little rapid weight loss sounds like a good thing, and for the most part they’d be right. It’s perfectly normal for us to want to shed a few excess pounds. In fact, it’s perfectly normal and healthy for a person’s weight to fluctuate quite regularly. Maybe the holidays roll around and we pack on a few extra calories that equate to some added pounds. Then, we find the time to be a little more physically active and we drop a few pounds.
This is just life – weight tends to go up and down a little bit and it’s usually related to subtle lifestyle changes.
Unexplained rapid weight loss is very different. For starters, we’re not talking about a pound or two here and there. We’re talking about substantial weight loss that happens fast – from within a few weeks to a few months. Weight loss could be 10 pounds or even more. What’s more telling is the fact that, like the name says, unexplained weight loss doesn’t have an apparent cause. In other words, a person’s diet hasn’t changed. They haven’t started a vigorous physical fitness routine. There are no extreme lifestyle changes that would warrant such dramatic weight loss.
So, what’s causing it? It could be any number of things and many of them are quite serious, including stomach cancer, metabolic or thyroid issues, and gastrointestinal disorders. Another serious condition unexplained weight loss could point to is diabetes.
How does diabetes lead to rapid weight loss?
When a person develops diabetes, it means the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it does produce effectively. Insulin is the hormone required for the body’s cells to transform blood sugar into energy. When this process is interrupted, glucose begins to build up in the bloodstream and eventually reaches levels warranting a diabetes diagnosis.
Here's how unexplained weight loss comes into play. When someone cannot process blood sugar effectively, the body’s cells essentially become starved for the sugar they need to create the energy required for the body to function properly. Because the body can’t get this energy as it normally would – from blood sugar – it searches for another fuel. This fuel is fat and muscle.
So, when someone has untreated or uncontrolled diabetes, the body feeds on fat and muscle, which leads to rapid weight loss. This is why unexplained weight loss is one of the key signs a person might have diabetes. Other symptoms often associated with diabetes, include feeling usually hungry or thirsty, more frequent urination, blurry vision, extreme fatigue, slow healing cuts and bruises, and mood changes, most notably becoming more irritable.
Can all diabetics experience rapid weight loss?
Rapid weight loss is more common among those who have Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune form of the disease in which the pancreas becomes unable to produce any insulin. Unexplained weight loss can also occur in those with Type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent form of the disease, though it is less common.
While Type 2 diabetes is most often associated with obesity, Type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with weight. In fact, most people with Type 1 diabetes are living at a healthy weight, so rapid weight loss is often more visible and easier to recognize. This is particularly important for parents as Type 1 diabetes often develops in childhood and early teen years, and unexplained weight loss is one of the more prevalent signs a child may have Type 1 diabetes.
What to do if you experience rapid weight loss
In a post by the Cleveland Clinic from January of 2022, registered nurse, Sue Cotey, RN, CDCES, reminds readers, “It’s important to remember that unexplained weight loss is not normal.”
So, if you or your child experiences rapid weight loss that cannot be explained by dietary or lifestyle changes, then it’s time to see your physician. If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll likely receive a blood test to determine if it has developed. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, then there’s a good chance that your blood sugar is not being properly controlled and you may need to make a few adjustments to your blood sugar testing and insulin treatment program, such as testing more often or, perhaps, moving to a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device for testing and an insulin pump for insulin delivery.
While rapid weight loss might not be due to diabetes, chances are there is a root cause that you need to know about and treat. Make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you identify diabetes or any other health condition, the better the outcome you’re likely to experience.
Do not try to solve the problem yourself
What you don’t want to do is try and compensate for rapid weight loss yourself. This is a problem for many who have not been diagnosed with diabetes and are unaware of the added damage they might be doing to themselves. They begin to eat more in an effort to put back on the lost pounds, and this often includes consuming foods with unhealthy fats and sugars, which only serves to increase blood sugar and worsen the situation.
There are millions of Americans living with undiagnosed diabetes who might experience rapid weight loss. Eating more, particularly eating unhealthily, is only going to make the problem worse and increase the risk of other diabetes-related complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage and vision loss.
Remember, unexplained weight loss is not normal. Something is up and trying to solve the problem without the help of your doctor and care team is not a smart move. Go see your doctor.
Unexplained weight loss is a common warning sign of diabetes, particularly for the Type 1 form of the disease. It could also be a sign that someone who is already treating diabetes is having trouble properly controlling blood sugar. Either way, losing too much weight too fast is a signal that there’s a problem which needs to be addressed. The root of the unexplained weight loss might not be diabetes, but it’s most likely something that requires medical attention. Don’t delay. Contact your physician and pin down the problem.
We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping those with diabetes manage blood sugar with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at prices up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.