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Cachexia (/kəˈkɛksiə/) is a complex syndrome associated with an underlying illness causing ongoing muscle loss that is not entirely reversed with nutritional supplementation. A range of diseases can cause cachexia, most commonly cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, and AIDS. Systemic inflammation from these conditions can cause detrimental changes to metabolism and body composition. In contrast to weight loss from inadequate caloric intake, cachexia causes mostly muscle loss instead of fat loss. Diagnosis of cachexia can be difficult due to the lack of well-established diagnostic criteria. Cachexia can improve with treatment of the underlying illness but other treatment approaches have limited benefit. Cachexia is associated with increased mortality and poor quality of life.
The term is from Greek κακός kakos, “bad”, and ἕξις hexis, “condition”.
Cachexia can be caused by diverse medical conditions, but is most often associated with end-stage cancer, known as cancer cachexia. About 50% of all cancer patients develop cachexia. Those with upper gastrointestinal and pancreatic cancers have the highest frequency of developing a cachexic symptom. Prevalence of cachexia rises in more advanced stages and is estimated to affect 80% of terminal cancer patients.