Colonoscopy for Unexplained Weight Loss
Sudden, unexplained weight loss can be a sign of more serious medical disorders within your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Often times, GI conditions can cause improper bowel movements that prevent healthy removal of waste from the body—and that waste can build up in a patient’s digestive tract and cause more health problems. Weight loss also occurs while a patient experiences frequent bouts of diarrhea, vomiting and/or a loss of appetite associated with these uncomfortable conditions. Scheduling a colonoscopy to allow more accurate examination of the anus, rectum and large intestine can be a helpful solution in determining what kind of medical attention your body needs. If you suddenly lose 10 or more pounds without trying, you might have one of the following bowel-related conditions or diseases:
Crohn’s Disease—Crohn’s disease is one type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease causes chronic redness and swelling of the tissue lining your GI tract, largely in the colon. Symptoms include severe pain in the abdominal area and frequent diarrhea, during which stool may contain blood as a result of colorectal damage. Patients who have Crohn’s disease sometimes lack the nutrients they need to maintain a healthy weight for several reasons. Content may not be able to be absorbed by the malfunctioning colon tissue, for one, and leaves the body too early during bouts of diarrhea. Another reason for malnutrition in patients with Crohn’s disease is simply that the symptoms of Crohn’s disease may cause patients to significantly lose their appetites.
Ulcerative Colitis—Ulcerative colitis is another major form of inflammatory bowel disease and is also referred to as UC. Unlike Crohn’s disease, which causes deep-tissue inflammation, UC causes chronic inflammation in only the lining of the colon wall and rectum. Ulcerative colitis is rarer than Crohn’s disease but can still lead to life-threatening health conditions if complications arise. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are the same as those for Crohn’s disease, but getting a colonoscopy can help your doctor determine which condition affects you.
Colon Cancer—Cancerous tumors associated with colorectal cancer can take a huge toll on the body’s digestive system as the tumors grow and become malignant. The tumors hoard nutrients and blood, leaving waste products for the rest of the body to use. Insufficient absorption due to the presence of cancerous tumors in the colon is a common side effect of colorectal cancer, but it’s not always easy to detect in patients who have not yet been diagnosed. The reason for this is that malignant tumors send chemical signals to the body’s metabolism that misleads the brain into believing that the weight loss is natural.
Other types of cancer—including stomach, small bowel, pancreatic or cancers outside the GI tract can also cause unexpected weight loss.
If you have lost more than 5 percent of your body weight in the past 6 months or 1 year, please call a medical expert immediately for a proper diagnosis.
Reviewed 12/12/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014