Physicians Only Recognize 1 in 5 Cases of Unintentional Weight Loss

Unintentional weight loss is more likely to be evident in older patients, although it may not be recognized in primary care.

HealthDay News Unintentional weight loss (UWL) is poorly recognized across a diverse range of patients, according to a study published online April 21 in Diagnosis.

Goutham Rao, M.D., from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, and colleagues examined incidence, rate of physician recognition, diagnostic practices, and cancer outcomes for unintentional weight loss. The analysis included 29,494 established adult primary care patients seen between 2020 and 2021.

Researchers found that 290 patients met 1 or more criteria for UWL (1%), which was recognized by physicians in only 21% of cases. In older patients, UWL was both more common and more likely to be recognized. Diagnostic practices were quite variable, but a complete blood count, complete metabolic profile, and thyroid stimulating hormone level were the 3 most common tests ordered in response to UWL. Within 12 months of UWL, 5 patients were diagnosed with cancer (3 in whom UWL was recognized; 2 in whom it was not).

“Our results show that unintentional weight loss is grossly underrecognized in primary care, though more likely to be recognized in older patients. Also, diagnostic practices among patients in whom it is recognized are variable,” Rao said in a statement. “While the best approach to the problem is yet to be determined, we can recommend, at the very least, the electronic health record alert care teams to significant weight loss, so they could ask whether weight loss was intentional or about other causes.”

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