Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unintentional Weight loss in elderly: Should we be worried?


It my 2nd week of posting in Family Medicine & Society (FMS)....

Last week, I our weekly Clinical Pathology Conference (CPC) in UKM Medical Center was presented by FMS department. The main topic was about Isolated Unintentional Weight Loss in elderly.It is a diagnostic challenge for the doctors in primary care ( clinics/ general practitioner) since it can be either apart of aging process or pathological. The doctors cannot just simply refer to specialist.them without knowing the reason to do so.

Clinical scenario:

A 71 years old Malay lady, married with 4 children with background history of chronic illness under medication & follow up
* hyertension for 30 years
* diabetes mellitus (DM) for 6 years
* hyperlipidemia for 6 years

There was a history of stroke in 2005 (6 years ago) that was treated.
She also had peptic ulcer disease.

Current problem:
She came to primary care (klinik kesihatan) with problem of loss of appetite and loss of weight for 2 months.
No fever or sign and symptoms pf Upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) and Urinary tract infection (UTI).
She was not depressed.

On physical examination: she is pale but no other abnormalities found. There is no lymphadenopathy.

Investigation on occult blood test: negative

Ultrasound of the abdomen does not reveal any abnormality.

Management at Primary care:
* come again to the clinic in a week.
* with-hold Oral hyperglycemic agent(OHA) since she is hypoglycemic
*continue hypertensive medication
*communicate with family members: bring patient to the nearest health care center if the patient is deteriorating.


A week later, her condition suddenly worsen and she deteriorates. She is jaundice. Immediately,she was admitted to the medical ward in the hospital..

Further investigation was done and the rults as follows:
*Low Hemoglobin level
*Occult blood test positive
*Increase CA19-9 tumor marker
*Increase Liver function test (LFT)

Final diagnosis : Periampullary carcinoma metastasis to gastric mucosa with obstructive jaundice and impending gastric outlet obstruction...

(what an unexpected complicated diagnosis??....)

Prognosis: The patient had Whipples' Procedure surgery and biliary stenting via ERCP.

click here for the Source of photo

Definition: Weight loss of >5% over 6 months (as high as 15-20% in >65 years old)

It's always present with other problems (in this patient: DM, Hypertension, hyperlipidemia). However, there is NO published guideline to manage it.

SO,(in primary care context) either (1) do nothing and accept it as aging process or (2) refer patient for further investigation and management.
What may be the cause???

(1) the most fearful one : MALIGNANCY
(2) should be worried but it is treatable if manage early : NON-MALIGNANCY (60% of the cases) eg: chronic disease(ie DM), Tuberculosis infection.
(3) PSYCHIATRIC ILNESS (10-20% of weight loss) eg: depression
(4) not to worry: ANOREXIA of AGING- physiological change due to decrease smell, taste, chewing and periodontal disease.criteria: 0.1-0.2kg per year.
(5) IDIOPATHIC (25%) unknown cause...

The risk factor for MALIGNANCY(cancer) are Male, increase weight loss, decrease hemoglobin, increase erythrocyte sedimentation rate(ESR), increase ALT,increase LDH
Tumor marker in not the initial investigation, but it it is useful (like in this case)

What can we do if a patient comes to you with unintentional weight loss??

(1) Full history taking
(2) physical examination
(3) investigation: Full blood count (FBC), Renal profile(RP), Liver function test (LFT), ESR/CRP, Chest X-ray, Stool occult blood test.(in there is suspicious/abnormal finding, refer the patient to respective specialist.However, if the findings are normal,observe the patient 3 months later)

Source: notes taken by writer during weekly Clinical Pathological Conference(CPC) on June 15th by Family Medicine & society (FMS) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Center (UKMMC)

Sites for futher information:
(1) Evaluating and treating unintentional weight loss in Elderly patient-American Academy of Family Physician
(2) An approach to management of unintentional weight loss in elderly people-Canadian Medical Journal Association

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