Cachexia treatment

Cachexia is a wasting syndrome that very sick people experience; it is seen in those with cancer, AIDS, chronic obstructive lung disease, congestive heart failure, tuberculosis, familial amyloid polyneuropathy, drug addiction, mercury poisoning, and more. It is characterized by weight loss, muscle atrophy, fatigue, weakness, wasting of muscle and adipose tissue, and loss of appetite in an individual who is not actively trying to lose weight. Those with this syndrome have an increased likelihood of death. If a serious problem has not yet been identified, those who present with cachexia should be checked for an underlying condition; it is a sign of something worse. Cachexia is most commonly associated with cancer, called cancer cachexia.

Causes of Cachexia
The cause of cachexia is still not completely clear, but it is said to have something to do with inflammatory cytokines, which are regulatory proteins released by the immune system.

Treatment for Cachexia
Unfortunately, today there are not any widely accepted drugs to treat cachexia. However, there are available treatments.

Steroids, more specifically corticosteroids, are used in attempt to increase weight. The down side is that the weight gain is usually only temporary, and eventually, the corticosteroids become counterproductive.

Drugs that mimic progesterone
The hormone that is used is called megestrol acetate (Megace). This hormone, which mimics the body’s own progesterone that interferes with the normal estrogen cycle, therefore, decreasing overall hormone levels. A side effect of this would be appetite stimulation and hopefully weight gain. Again, the weight gain is only temporary and develops primarily as fatty (adipose) tissue, as opposed to lean muscle mass. However, this last factor shouldn’t be a reason not to try this treatment because any amount of weight gain for these individuals can increase energy levels.

Medical marijuana
Medical marijuana is allowed for treatment in only a few states in the US.

Fatty acid supplements
By fatty acids, I am specifically referring to omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fish and fish oil. Studies have shown that fish oil supplements (due to the action of the fatty acids) can increase weight in those suffering from cancer cachexia. They reduce inflammation and protein breakdown.

Although this medication was taken off the market decades ago due to the cause of multiple birth defects in women who took it when they were pregnant, it is used with caution to treat those with cachexia. It appears to interfere with the cytokines.

Other treatments
There are a few treatments that are currently being studied to treat cachexia, but haven’t been officially used to do so yet. They include some anti-cholesterol medications and the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors that are used to treat hypertension. These medications apparently have an anti-inflammatory component to counteract the inflammatory cytokines that may be responsible for causing cachexia. A class of antibiotics, called macrolides, may also have anti-inflammatory properties. Amino acid supplementation, which is often used to increase sports performance is used to help increase lean body mass.

Intravenous nutrition
Sometimes parenteral nutrition is used as a last resort; this is because it is very expensive and has a higher risk of possible infection. Also, it can only be used for short periods of time. On the other hand, it certainly can [temporarily] benefit an individual by improving electrolyte balance and an individual’s protein levels. The risk of infections, however, can be much greater for a patient, depending on his or her current state.

Continuous research
There is still ongoing research into the causes and possible treatments for various types of cachexia. It is a very wonderful thing that experts are dedicating themselves to this cause.

Last updated on Mar 20th, 2011 and filed under Other Conditions & Diseases. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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