Unintentional weight loss: diagnosis and prognosis. The first prospective follow-up study from a secondary referral centre

Authors

  • P. G. Lankisch,

    1. From the 1Department of Internal Medicine, Municipal Clinic of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, and 2Institute for Statistics and Econometrics, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
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  • 1 M. Gerzmann,

    1. From the 1Department of Internal Medicine, Municipal Clinic of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, and 2Institute for Statistics and Econometrics, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
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  • 1 J.-F. Gerzmann,

    1. From the 1Department of Internal Medicine, Municipal Clinic of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, and 2Institute for Statistics and Econometrics, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
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  • and 1 D. Lehnick 1,2

    1. From the 1Department of Internal Medicine, Municipal Clinic of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, and 2Institute for Statistics and Econometrics, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
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Professor Dr P G Lankisch, Medizinische Klinik, Staedtisches Klinikum Lueneburg, Boegelstrasse 1, D-21339 Lueneburg, Germany (fax:  + 49 4131–772245; e-mail: lankisch@uni-lueneburg.de).

Abstract

Abstract. Lankisch PG, Gerzmann M, Gerzmann J-F, Lehnick D (Municipal Clinic of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, and University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany). Unintentional weight loss: diagnosis and prognosis. The first prospective follow-up study from a secondary referral centre. J Intern Med 2001; 249: 41–46.

Objectives. To establish the incidence and causes of unintentional weight loss and to compare prognoses.

Design. Prospective.

Setting. Secondary referral centre.

Subjects. 158 patients (89 female, 56%; 69 male, 44%) referred by general physicians for unexplained weight loss or for other reasons. In the latter case, weight loss was established after admission to hospital. Follow-up lasted for up to 3 years.

Main outcome measure. Determining the course of weight loss in patients with diagnosed and undiagnosed causes.

Results. The cause of weight loss was established in 132 (84%) patients and remained unclear in 26 (16%). Reasons were non-malignant (60% of patients) and malignant (24%) diseases. Psychological disorders represented 11% of the non-malignant group. A gastrointestinal disease caused weight loss in 50 (30%) patients. Of malignant disorders, 53% (20 of 38 patients) were gastrointestinal. Amongst the non-malignant group, 39% (30 of 77 patients) had somatic disorders. The prognosis for unknown causes of weight loss was the same as for non-malignant causes.

Conclusion. Contrary to common belief, weight loss is not usually due to a malignant disease. A gastrointestinal tract disorder accounts for weight loss in every third patient. If minimal diagnostic procedures cannot establish a diagnosis, then endoscopic investigation of the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract and function tests should be performed to exclude malabsorption.

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