Sarcopenia, cachexia and aging: diagnosis, mechanisms and therapeutic options - a mini-review

Gerontology. 2014;60(4):294-305. doi: 10.1159/000356760. Epub 2014 Apr 8.


By the year 2050, individuals over the age of 65 years will comprise 20% of the US population. Loss of muscle mass and strength is common in this age group and it is associated with increased dependence, frailty and mortality. Sarcopenia, defined as the loss of muscle mass and function associated with aging, and cachexia, defined as weight loss due to an underlying illness, are muscle wasting disorders of particular relevance in the aging population, but they go largely unrecognized. In this review we highlight the common pathophysiological mechanisms underlying muscle loss in sarcopenia and cachexia, the factors unique to each condition and means of diagnosing and differentiating them clinically. Therapeutic options including exercise, nutritional therapy, androgens and growth hormone as well as their practical limitations are discussed. We also shed light on newer agents being developed as potential therapeutic options for wasting diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Androgens / physiology
  • Appetite Stimulants / therapeutic use
  • Cachexia* / diagnosis
  • Cachexia* / etiology
  • Cachexia* / therapy
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Ghrelin / therapeutic use
  • Human Growth Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Androgen / physiology
  • Sarcopenia* / diagnosis
  • Sarcopenia* / etiology
  • Sarcopenia* / therapy


  • AR protein, human
  • Androgens
  • Appetite Stimulants
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Ghrelin
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Human Growth Hormone