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Physicians Only Recognize One in Five Cases of Unintentional Weight Loss

Furthermore, authors say, diagnostic practices show variability

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 16, 2023 (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.

The researchers found that 290 patients met one or more criteria for UWL (1 percent), which was recognized by physicians in only 21 percent 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 three most common tests ordered in response to UWL. Within 12 months of UWL, five patients were diagnosed with cancer (three in whom UWL was recognized; two 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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