What You Should Know About Unexplained Weight Loss and Diabetes

It’s important to look out for early signs
diabetes and weight loss

In many cases, we can afford to gain or lose a pound or two. It’s normal to indulge a little too much (especially around the holidays) and then work to get in some extra exercise time in our schedules. It’s also normal to lose a couple of pounds when battling an illness; once we feel better, we can start eating normally again and regain the weight.

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One aspect of weight that’s not normal, however, is if you’re experiencing a major drop in pounds without any major diet or exercise changes. If this severe and unexpected weight loss is taking place, talk to your healthcare provider immediately.

While weight loss of just a pound or two isn’t a reason for concern, unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may mean something is wrong and that your body is trying to tell you something. Ultimately, this dramatic weight loss could be an early sign of diabetes.

“This weight loss can occur relatively quickly — over a few weeks to a couple of months,” says registered nurse Sue Cotey, RN, CDCES.

Read on to find out why diabetes causes weight loss and what to do.

Why can diabetes cause weight loss?

Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use glucose (sugar) for energy.

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If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin effectively and can’t transport the glucose to your cells. Instead, it builds up in your blood.

“When the glucose doesn’t arrive in your cells, your body thinks it’s starving and finds a way to compensate. It creates energy by burning fat and muscle at a rapid pace. This causes unexplained weight loss,” explains Cotey.

Your kidneys also begin working overtime to eliminate the excess sugars in your blood. This uses additional energy and can cause damage to your kidneys.

Type 1 diabetes has a similar pattern, but instead of being unable to use insulin, your body stops producing it altogether.

Unexplained weight loss can occur in people who have Type 2 diabetes, but it’s more commonly found in people with Type 1. Parents are often the first to notice unusual weight loss in a child with Type 1 diabetes.

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What other symptoms of diabetes should you watch for?

Weight loss from diabetes is not usually a standalone symptom. It’s typically accompanied by other signs, including:

  • Excessive thirst or hunger.
  • Excessive urination.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Dark skin around the neck and armpits.
  • Slow healing of cuts and bruises.
  • Yeast infections.
  • Unusual fatigue.
  • Mood changes, including irritability.
  • Vision changes.

How is diabetes weight loss treated?

If you’re experiencing weight loss and are uncertain about how to gain the weight back, consult with your physician. You don’t want to start eating unhealthy fats just to put the pounds back on, as that can lead to a worsened case of diabetes.

Instead, your doctor may suggest supplemental insulin treatments or other medications to make sure your blood sugar normalizes.

“It’s important to remember that unexplained weight loss isn’t normal,” says Cotey.

It’s not only a sign of diabetes, but may also point to other issues such as cancer or gastrointestinal tract, metabolism or thyroid issues. If you’re dropping weight and don’t know why, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

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