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").

6 Potential Loss of Muscle Mass Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.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

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, depressed mood, weight gain, back pain
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy

    Nerve damage in the limbs can be caused by diabetes, toxic substances, immune system issues and low vitamin levels. However, in about one of every four cases no cause can be found and then the condition is called 'idiopathic'. Symptoms of nerve damage can be (burning) pain sensations, numbness, tingling and weakness in hands, feet or lower legs.

    This is a chronic condition.

    Top Symptoms:
    distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Primary care doctor

    Loss of Muscle Mass Checker

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  4. 4.Osteoid Osteoma

    An osteoid osteoma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor that usually develops in the long bones of the legs. The thigh bone (femur) is affected most commonly, although the bones of the hand or the spine can have occasional involvement. This condition is most often found in young people.

    Good prognosis, 90% chance that the condition will not come back. A short recovery time after surgery is expected.

    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, upper back pain, spontaneous back pain, back pain that shoots to the butt, severe back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with osteoid osteoma:
    hip pain, bilateral leg swelling, weakness in both arms, weakness of both legs
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Idiopathic Inflammatory Myopathy

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


    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, muscle aches, fever, rash, unintentional weight loss
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Mitochondrial Myopathy

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


    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
    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.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Have you lost your appetite recently?

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:

    • 14% Fatigue
    • 10% General Weakness
    • 2% Decreased Exercise Tolerance
  • People who have experienced loss of muscle mass were most often matched with:

    • 8% Cushing Syndrome
    • 7% Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy
  • 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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