Before extensive evaluation is undertaken, it is important to confirm that weight loss has occurred (up to 50% of claims of weight loss cannot be substantiated). In the absence of documentation, changes in belt notch size or the fit of clothing may help to determine loss of weight.
The history should include questions about fever, pain, shortness of breath or cough, palpitations, and evidence of neurologic disease. A history of GI symptoms should be obtained, including difficulty eating, dysgeusia, dysphagia, anorexia, nausea, and change in bowel habits. Travel history, use of cigarettes, alcohol, and all medications should be reviewed, and pts should be questioned about previous illness or surgery as well as diseases in family members. Risk factors for HIV should be assessed. Signs of depression, evidence of dementia, and social factors, including isolation, loneliness, and financial issues that might affect food intake, should be considered.
Physical examination should begin with weight determination and documentation of vital signs. The skin should be examined for pallor, jaundice, turgor, surgical scars, and stigmata of systemic disease. Evaluation for oral thrush, dental disease, thyroid gland enlargement, and adenopathy and for respiratory, cardiac, or abdominal abnormalities should be performed. All men should have a rectal examination, including the prostate; all women should have a pelvic examination; and both should have testing of the stool for occult blood. Neurologic examination should include mental status assessment and screening for depression.
Initial laboratory evaluation is shown in Table 30-2, with appropriate treatment based on the underlying cause of the weight loss. If an etiology of weight loss is not found, careful clinical follow-up, rather than persistent undirected testing, is reasonable. The absence of abnormal laboratory tests is a favorable prognostic sign.
TABLE 30-2SCREENING TESTS FOR EVALUATION OF INVOLUNTARY WEIGHT LOSS ||Download (.pdf) TABLE 30-2SCREENING TESTS FOR EVALUATION OF INVOLUNTARY WEIGHT LOSS
Electrolytes, calcium, glucose
Renal and liver function tests
Recommended cancer screening
Upper and/or lower gastrointestinal endoscopy
TREATMENT: WEIGHT LOSS
Treatment of weight loss should be directed at correcting the underlying physical cause or social circumstance. In specific situations, nutritional supplements and medications (megestrol acetate, dronabinol, or growth hormone) may be effective for stimulating appetite or increasing weight.
For a more detailed discussion, see Robertson RG, Jameson JL: Involuntary Weight Loss, Chap. 56, p. 274, in HPIM-19.