Health officials and caregivers meeting in Berlin to discuss the impact of cachexia--commonly known as wasting syndrome--say too little is known about the causes and treatments of the unintended weight loss among the elderly and patients with chronic illnesses such as HIV. "The disease has been greatly underestimated as a problem for a long time, but we are beginning to develop data that show its prevalence in many areas," said researcher and cachexia expert Stefan Anker. "It is important for medical professionals, patients, and their families to understand the wide-ranging impact of cachexia across patient populations and to realize that for the chronically ill and elderly, weight loss can be life-threatening." Conference attendees agreed that more research and human studies are needed to understand cachexia's impact and treatment, and that further research is needed to understand the link between fat tissue gain and loss and its impact on overall health, particularly in chronically ill patients.
Research has shown that in HIV-positive patients, overall weight loss of as little as 5% can significantly increase the risk of death and AIDS-related complications. As many as 30% of AIDS patients experience wasting syndrome at some point, according to data presented at the Berlin conference. Cachexia is also common among cancer patients, adults with chronic heart failure, those with chronic kidney disease, and people experiencing liver cirrhosis. Current cachexia treatments for HIV patients include human growth factors, anabolic steroids, and appetite stimulants. There are no approved treatments for cachexia in the elderly or those with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.