Underweight health risks: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Underweight health risks: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

While some people may have a genetic background or a medical illness that prevents them from putting on weight, there are interventions doctors can recommend to help a person gain weight.

In this article, we look at ways to tell if you are underweight, causes, treatments, and when to see a doctor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend people use a body mass index (BMI) to calculate if they are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight.

Using the BMI is considered a good measure of a person's weight because it compares their weight to their height. For example, a 170-pound person may not be overweight if they are very tall but could be overweight if they are very short.

A person can calculate their BMI by visiting the CDC's Adult BMI Calculator. Ranges for BMI include:

These calculations may be slightly inaccurate for a person who is an elite or endurance athlete whose body has a significant amount of muscle. This is because muscle weighs more than fat.

Being underweight can cause health problems, just as being overweight can.

Not all people who are underweight experience adverse side effects or symptoms from being underweight. However, some people, experience the following symptoms related to being underweight:

According to a study published in the journal BMC Public Health, being underweight is associated with an increased risk for mortality when compared to people with an average BMI. The researchers suggested that being underweight may impair a person's healing processes following an accident or trauma compared to a person with an average BMI.

There are a variety of reasons why a person may be underweight. Sometimes, multiple underlying causes may be related. Causes of being underweight include:

A doctor can help a person identify the cause of their low BMI and recommend a treatment plan that allows them to gain weight healthfully.

If a person is underweight, there are various healthful weight-gain methods that they can try.

A person can gain weight by following a healthful diet that incorporates nutritious calorie-dense foods. A doctor may recommend a person tries a specific diet for weight gain or refer them to a dietitian, who can help a person develop a diet plan that works for them.

Some key components of a diet for weight gain may include:

Doctors may also prescribe anti-nausea medications or appetite stimulants to help a person who is underweight gain weight whenever possible. Doctors will usually only prescribe these treatments when at-home treatments have not worked.

A person should see their doctor if they have tried to gain weight but have not been able to. Anyone who is experiencing any effects of ill health due to being unable to gain weight, such as missed periods or infertility, should also see a doctor.

If a person struggles with mental illness or an eating disorder, it is essential they seek professional help. Unfortunately, a person may not always recognize their behavior is a problem.

Some of the symptoms associated with eating disorders include:

If a person has these symptoms, their friends or family members should encourage them to seek professional help from a doctor or therapist.

A person who is underweight may be at an increased risk of developing complications, including bone, teeth, and fertility problems.

A person should aim to maintain a healthy BMI. Working with a medical professional can help a person achieve and sustain a healthy weight.

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