Read below about loss of muscle mass, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your loss of muscle mass from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Loss of Muscle Mass Symptoms

Muscles are important to our every day function, and so when one noticeably loses muscle mass it can be disturbing. Losing some muscle mass is a normal part of growing old. While losing some muscle with age is typical, losing muscle mass rapidly, or atrophy, especially in the context of other symptoms, can be indicative of a serious underlying condition.

Loss of muscle mass may be associated with these common symptoms:

Loss of Muscle Mass Causes Overview

Most people lose muscle mass as they age, which tends to happen slowly and over time. Additionally, muscle mass can be lost in such a fashion as a result of switching to a more sedentary lifestyle. However, if muscle mass is rapidly lost, this can be a symptom of severe disease.

Lifestyle-related causes:

  • Aging: Aging is characterized by replacement of some muscle mass with fatty tissue.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Use it or lose it! Using your muscles can ensure they stay strong.
  • Exercise: Exercise may lead to the strengthening of certain muscle groups at the expense of others. Running a marathon, for instance, may lead to some muscle breakdown in the unused muscles, even as the legs become stronger.

Systemic causes:

  • Cancer: Advanced cancers use a lot of energy and may break down muscle as a source of body fuel.
  • Chronic Disease: Advanced diseases of the lungs, heart, or kidneys can lead to loss of muscle mass.
  • Neurologic Deficits: Altered cognition and movement difficulties associated with neurologic disease can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
  • Medication Side Effect: Some medications may cause loss of muscle mass.
  • Genetic: Rare genetic diseases can result in loss of muscle mass.

Metabolic causes:

  • Malnutrition: Extremely poor diet can lead to loss of muscle mass as your body breaks down the muscles for energy.
  • Endocrine Disease: Imbalance of various hormones caused by damage to hormone-producing glands can lead to unintentional weight loss. Examples include diabetes or an over active thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

Inflammatory causes:

  • Autoimmune Disease: Autoimmune disease, when your immune system becomes confused and attacks your own tissues, can lead to weight loss due to the associated high energy use.
  • Infectious Disease: Chronic infection can cause weight loss and loss of muscle mass as your body breaks down tissues for energy.

Gastrointestinal causes:

  • Malabsorption: Some diseases of your gastrointestinal tract make it less efficient at absorbing nutrients, leading to loss of muscle mass.
  • Inflammatory: Inflammation of your stomach or intestines can cause poor nutrient uptake.

Psychiatric causes:

  • Mood Disorder: Certain disorders of mood, especially depression, can lead to diminished appetite and subsequent loss of muscle mass.
  • Eating Disorder: People may lose muscle mass if they have an eating disorder that alters their nutritional intake.
  • Drug Use: Overuse of certain substances can lead to weight loss and loss of muscle mass. Examples include methamphetamines ("meth").

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Loss of Muscle Mass

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced loss of muscle mass. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Brachial Plexopathy (Shoulder Nerve Issue)

    The brachial plexus is a complex nerve network located in the upper chest and shoulder region. Nerves can be explained as 'electric wires' of the body, passing through signals from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that lies deep to the collar bone, which supplies the shoulder, arm, forearm, and hand. When this bundle of nerves is (partially) damaged, one speaks of a 'plexopathy'. Several causes of damage can be injury or forceful trauma, inflammation or infection. A commonly known cause is sports injury in contact sports like football and rugby. Symptoms can include pain, burning, numbness and weakness in the shoulder and arm on one side, sometimes shooting through the arm to the hand. An acute (sports) injury that causes this condition is often called 'burners' or 'stingers' because of the burning and stinging type of pain. When the cause is inflammation of the nerves, it is often called the Parsonage-Turner syndrome.

    The severity of this condition is highly variable, and dependent on the amount of damage caused to the nerves. Brachial plexus injury following surgery usually has a good prognosis. Recovery times range from 2 weeks to 2 years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one arm, shoulder pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, numbness in one arm, shoulder pain
    Symptoms that never occur with brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue):
    pain in the front middle part of the neck
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Cushing Syndrome

    Cushing Syndrome is a hormonal disorder. The cause is long-term exposure to too much cortisol, a hormone that the adrenal gland makes. Sometimes, taking synthetic hormone medicine like corticosteroids to treat an inflammatory disease leads to Cushing's syndrome.

    Recovery depends on treatment method

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, depressed mood, weight gain, back pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Hiv / Aids

    HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) refers to a virus that kills or damages the body's immune system cells and spreads through unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing drug needles or through contact with the blood of an infected person. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) occurs when the body's immune system has become very weak and has a difficult time fighting off other infections.

    Chronic, but manageable

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, fever, distal numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Idiopathic Inflammatory Myopathy

    Idiopathic inflammatory myopathy refers to a closely related group of conditions that cause inflammation of muscle tissue.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, muscle aches, fever, rash, unintentional weight loss
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Loss of Muscle Mass Checker

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  5. 5.Anorexia

    Eating disorders are serious behavioral problems. They can include severe overeating, or not consuming enough food to stay healthy. They also involve extreme concern about your shape or weight. Anorexia nervosa is a condition where people have an intense fear about how their body looks and how much they weigh, leading to severe caloric restriction.

    80% of people will get better with years of effective counseling and therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, decreased sex drive, frequent mood swings
    Symptoms that always occur with anorexia:
    fear of gaining weight
    Symptoms that never occur with anorexia:
    heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Als)

    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. This progressive, neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells.

    Lifelong

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, difficulty concentrating, difficulty walking, hoarse voice
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Mitochondrial Myopathy

    Mitochondrial myopathy includes a group of inherited genetic disorders that affect the muscles of the body.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, core symptoms of mitochondrial myopathy, muscle aches, unintentional weight loss, eye pain
    Symptoms that always occur with mitochondrial myopathy:
    core symptoms of mitochondrial myopathy
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Overactive Thyroid

    The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just above your collarbone. It is one of your endocrine glands, which make hormones. Thyroid glands control how fast one burns calories and how fast the heart beats. If the thyroid is too active, it makes more thyroid hormones than the body needs. This is called hyperthyroidism.

    Great prognosis with high remission rates

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, anxiety, depressed mood, irritability, trouble sleeping
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Loss of Muscle Mass Treatments and Relief

Most of the time when people lose muscle mass, it is due to a change to a more sedentary lifestyle or due to normal aging. Loss of muscle mass or significant weight loss in other contexts, however, can be indicative of a more serious condition which merits full medical evaluation. If you have rapidly and unintentionally lost weight and muscle mass, you should see a physician.

At-home loss of muscle mass treatments:

  • Exercise: The most effective way to build your muscles is to use them. Go on a run, hit up the gym, and get active!
  • Diet alteration: You can lose muscle mass if you don't eat enough, as your body will turn to breaking down muscle for energy.

Professional loss of muscle mass treatments:

  • Blood and urine testing: Lab tests will be performed to check your nutrition and other metrics.
  • Imaging: X-raysor other imaging may be required to figure out the cause of your loss of muscle mass symptoms.
  • Muscle testing: Strength and testing of the nerves feeding muscles can help with diagnosis.
  • Physical or occupational therapy: In some cases, therapies can be administered to help build strength or function.
  • Medication: Some medical conditions causing muscle loss can be treated with medication.
  • Surgery: Rarely, loss of muscle mass may be caused by a disease requiring an operation.

You should seek help without delay if you have:

  • Fever, chills, or signs of infection
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Any new bumps or masses
  • Sudden onset confusion
  • Frequent falls or imbalance

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Loss of Muscle Mass

  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?
  • Q.Did your symptoms start after getting sick?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our loss of muscle mass symptom checker to find out more.

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Loss of Muscle Mass Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced loss of muscle mass have also experienced:

    • 15% Fatigue
    • 10% General Weakness
    • 2% Decreased Exercise Tolerance
  • People who have experienced loss of muscle mass were most often matched with:

    • 40% Hiv / Aids
    • 30% Brachial Plexopathy (Shoulder Nerve Issue)
    • 30% Cushing Syndrome
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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