What is Cachexia or Wasting Syndrome? | Nutrition

Cachexia or Wasting Syndrome

Everything you need to know about cachexia

Cachexia (pronounced Kuh-KEK-see-uh) is a “wasting” disorder that causes extreme weight loss and muscle atrophy and can include loss of body fat. This syndrome affects people who are in the last stages of serious diseases such as cancer, HIV or AIDS, COPD, kidney disease, and congestive heart failure (CHF).

The period “cachexia” originates from the Greek words “Kakos” and “, which mean “bad condition”.

The difference between cachexia and other types of weight loss is that it is involuntary. People who develop it do not lose weight because they are trying to cut through diet or exercise. They lose weight because they eat less for a variety of reasons. At the same time, your metabolism changes, causing your body to break down too much muscle. Both inflammation and substances created by tumors can affect appetite and cause the body to burn calories faster than usual.

Researchers believe cachexia is part of the body’s response to fighting disease. To get additional energy to fuel the brain when nutritious stores are low, the body breaks down muscle and fat.

A person with cachexia is not limited to losing weight. They become so weak and fragile that their body becomes vulnerable to infection, making them more likely to die from their disease. Simply getting more nutrition or calories is not enough to reverse cachexia.


The interaction of many different factors causes cachexia. People with cachexia have abnormal levels of certain materials in their bodies. These imbalances lead to weight loss and muscle atrophy.

Several factors contribute to cachexia, including the levels of these substances, the conditions that cause them, and the reaction they cause in the body. These materials interact with each other and lead to cachexia finished several pathways, including:

  • Increase metabolism and energy expenditure
  • Causing inflammation
  • Increasing muscle breakdown
  • Prevent muscle growth
  • Researchers are still studying the many links and other possible causes that can lead to cachexia.

Risk factors

There are certain chronic conditions related to cachexia, usually in the final stages of the disease. A person with one of the following conditions should talk to their doctor about steps to prevent the development of cachexia and how to improve quality of life.

Examples of these conditions include:

  • Cancer, particularly in the lung, pancreas, and stomach.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
  • Chronic kidney failure, with an estimated quarter of all people with the disease showing signs of malnutrition.
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • HIV
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


Recent research suggests that cachexia often begins even before weight loss occurs, so there may not be any symptoms at first. When symptoms do occur, they include:

Unintentional (unintentional) weight loss

Weight loss with cachexia is involuntary, which means it happens without trying. However, it goes beyond inexplicable weight loss. Weight loss can occur even if you get an adequate amount of calories in your diet, and if calorie intake exceeds energy production. Unintentional weight loss is defined as a 5% loss of body weight over a 6-12-month period, but even less weight loss could be cause for concern.

Skeletal muscle loss

Muscle wasting is a hallmark of cachexia and occurs alongside fat loss. It can also be quite insidious. In people who are overweight at the time of diagnosis, significant loss of muscle mass can occur without an obvious outward appearance of weight loss.

Anorexia/loss of appetite

Loss of appetite is another symptom of cachexia, and again this symptom is somewhat different from the common symptoms of “loss of appetite.” With cachexia, it is not simply a decreased desire to eat, but rather a loss of desire to eat.

Low quality of life

Muscle wasting can decrease your ability to walk and participate in activities that would normally be enjoyable.

Who has cachexia?

People with early-stage cancers usually do not have cachexia. Up to 8 in 10 people with advanced cancer (80%) develop some degree of cachexia. Cachexia in advanced cancer can be very bothersome. You may feel very weak and less able to do things. Cachexia is not only associated with cancer. It is common in the advanced stages of other diseases such as heart disease, HIV, and kidney disease.

Losing muscle and fat can make it seem like you’re wasting away. All of this can be made worse by the side effects of the cancer treatment you are receiving. If you are concerned or upset about changes in your body and cachexia, speak with your medical team. They will support you.

Why and how cachexia occurs?

The consensus statement is a good start, according to another co-author, But researchers still need to delve into how this develops in cancer patients, Dr. Davis continued, and how its course is influenced by everything from nutrition and physical activity to disease-specific factors, such as reduced levels of testosterone caused by opioid cancer therapy to treat pain.

Clearly, multiple factors are at play in the development and progression of cachexia, Dr. Goldberg explained. He believes that, in essence, cachexia is “more of a host response that has evolved to combat fasting, injury or disease,” he said. During this response, the body is trying to obtain additional energy stores from the muscles, in the form of amino acids, to convert them to glucose and keep the brain functioning. The problem, he sustained, “is that we cannot turn off this response to cancer, even when we can provide the patient with vital nutrients.”

Many studies suggest that inflammation “is a unifying theme of cachexia in many diseases.


Treatment involves treating cancer. If cancer can be controlled or cured, the cachexia resolves.

Additional caloric supplementation does not alleviate cachexia. Any weight gain is usually minimal and is likely to consist of fat tissue rather than muscle. It does not improve function or prognosis. Therefore, in most patients with cancer, and high-calorie supplementation is not recommended. Parenteral nutritional provision is not indicated except in situations where the oral intake of adequate nutrition is incredible.

However, other treatments can alleviate and improve function. Corticosteroids increase appetite and can improve feelings of well-being, but they do little to increase body weight. Also, cannabinoids (marijuana, dronabinol) increase appetite but not weight. Progestins, such as megestrol acetate, 40 mg orally 2 or 3 times a day, can increase both appetite and body weight. Drugs are being studied to alter the production and effects of cytokines.


This can be very serious. It can complicate treatment for the condition that caused it and decrease your response to that treatment. Persons with cancer are less able to tolerate the chemotherapy and other therapies they need to endure.

As a result of these complications, people with cachexia have an inferior quality of life. They also have worse forecasts.


There is no specific test that can diagnose cardiac cachexia. In most cases, physicians will try to rule out other health difficulties that may be causing your weight loss.

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