Cachexia overview

What is Cachexia?

Cachexia is a complex, debilitating, and life-threatening wasting disease that accompanies a wide range of serious chronic illnesses and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Cachexia is a feature of many medical conditions, including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), multiple sclerosis, chronic heart failure, tuberculosis and cancer1,2.

Cachexia is defined as weight loss, associated with a chronic underlying disease, of at least 5% in 12 months or less. It is commonly associated with fatigue, loss of muscle strength and fat tissue loss associated with a range of immune, neurohormonal, metabolic and biochemical abnormalities. It is characteristically associated with negative protein loss, reduced food intake and abnormal metabolism3.

Who gets Cachexia? / Who does Cachexia affect?

Cachexia often affects patients with certain common underlying chronic illnesses, such as cancer. The overall prevalence of cachexia is high and growing in industrialized countries. It is estimated that cachexia affects approximately 9 million patients, which is about 1% of all patients with any disease4.


1Tisdale MJ. Mechanisms of cancer cachexia. Physiol Rev. 2009;89:381–410.

2Fearon K, Arends J, Baracos V. Understanding the mechanisms and treatment options in cancer cachexia. Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2013;10:90–99. 

3Evans WJ, Morley JE, Argilés J, Bales C, Baracos V, Guttridge D, et al. Cachexia: a new definition. Clin Nutr 2008; 27: 793–799.

4Von Haehling S, Anker MS, Anker SD. Prevalence and clinical impact of cachexia in chronic illness in Europe, USA and Japan. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle 2016; 7: 507–509.