What is underweight?
Although being thin is often a sign of health, being underweight can be a cause for concern. This happens when it is due to poor nutrition, pregnancy or other health problems.
A person is underweight when he or she is below a healthy weight.
Prognosis of the disease
Underweight may be the symptom of an underlying pathology. In case of unexplained weight loss, a medical diagnosis is essential.
On the other hand, underweight may be a primary causative condition. People with this condition may have a weak immune system, as well as poor physical condition, making them prone to infections.
Other risks that underweight can cause are:
- Fertility problems, especially in women. Also problems during pregnancy.
- Hair loss
- Increased risk of osteoporosis
Underweight may be the symptom of an underlying pathology.
Symptoms of underweight
BMI (body mass index) is the simplest tool for calculating body fat.
- BMI less than 18.5: underweight
- BMI between 18.5 and 24.9: healthy weight
- BMI between 25 and 29.9: overweight
- BMI over 30: obesity
Medical tests for underweight
The body mass index is used to detect if the patient is underweight. The specialist should also perform a complete check-up, to measure pulse, blood pressure and, if deemed necessary, perform an electrocardiogram.
A blood test will be useful to detect other possible causes of weight loss, as well as a stool study to detect possible parasite infections. In case of suspicion of a specific disease (diabetes, cancer, hyperthyroidism…), specific diagnostic tests should be performed.
What is the cause of underweight?
The most frequent cause of underweight is malnutrition, due to the absence of adequate food. This cause of underweight can be due to multiple factors, such as an eating disorder, diabetes or an overactive thyroid gland.
Underweight can result from a loss of appetite, motivated by:
- Depression, stress or anxiety
- Chronic illnesses or infections
- Illicit drugs
Can it be prevented?
Follow a healthy diet and exercise frequently. It is also important to get adequate rest. Also, see a medical specialist if you notice an unexplained change in weight.
Treatments for underweight
There are several methods to gain weight in a healthy way, among which we can highlight:
- Eating more frequently: it is possible for the patient to feel satisfied faster, if he/she is underweight. It is recommended to eat 5 or 6 times a day with less quantity, instead of 2 or 3 big meals.
- Smoothies and milkshakes: healthy drinks with milk and fruit, with some ground lye, are highly recommended. On the contrary, coffee, diet sodas or other drinks with few calories or nutritional value are not recommended.
- Nutrient-rich foods: bread, pasta, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, as well as dairy, lean protein sources and nuts and seeds.
- Control fluids: sometimes fluids before meals can reduce appetite. In such a case, it is recommended to drink high-calorie beverages with a meal. It is also possible to drink half an hour after eating.
- Adding extras: adding ingredients such as cheese to casseroles and scrambled eggs or skim milk powder to soups will add more calories.
- Exercise: especially muscle strengthening, is helpful in gaining weight by strengthening muscles. It will also stimulate appetite.
- Indulge: even underweight people should watch out for excess fat and sugar. Bran muffins, granola bars or yogurt are good options.
What specialist treats it?
Underweight should be treated by a Family Physician or a specialist in Nutrition and Dietetics.