What Are the Symptoms of Cachexia?

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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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One of the the most easily detectable symptoms of cachexia is the substantial loss of body mass. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, and strong fatigue. Many patients with the condition also experience a significant loss of appetite. Some forms of the disease can be detected because the patient loses mass despite eating normally.

As cachexia is usually the result of another disease, such as cancer or auto-immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), it can often be easy to diagnose. It is particularly common among patients in the late stages of a progressive disease. For this reason, a poor prognosis for the patient, accompanied by common symptoms, can be a clear indicator of the disease.

In many cases, the mass lost with cachexia is permanently gone. This is primarily because it causes a decrease in muscle mass. This will present itself as increasing weakness and fatigue in the patient. While muscle mass loss is also common in other diseases, such as anorexia, the decline tends to be much faster with this condition.

Another potential sign of this condition is the development of malnutrition. This can present itself in conditions such as kwashiorkor and marasmus, which are forms of severe protein energy malnutrition. These conditions are among the rare instances where cachexia is not caused by the development of an underlying disease.


Cachexia is also commonly seen in patients with anorexia. It develops in both individuals who have only that disease and in patients who developed anorexia as a result of having cancer. Both conditions can develop in patients whose cancer has returned after a period of remission.

The symptoms of cachexia are typically treated with a combination of diet and medication. Doctors will usually prescribe a high-calorie diet in the hopes of helping the patient to gain weight. There are also drugs that can help to encourage the growth of muscle mass and increase appetite. These include steroids and medical marijuana. Supplements with omega-3 fatty acids can also help to increase appetite and weight.

Often the only way to effectively combat cachexia is to treat the underlying condition that has caused it. For example, a successful radiation or chemotherapy cycle can improve a patient’s overall health, which can lead to the development of muscle mass and weight gain. It is rare to be able to reverse the symptoms of cachexia if the underlying disease does not improve, however.


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