Weight loss, malnutrition, and cachexia in COVID-19: facts and numbers

J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2021 Feb;12(1):9-13. doi: 10.1002/jcsm.12674. Epub 2020 Dec 31.


Patients with COVID-19 disease are prone to develop significant weight loss and clinical cachexia. Three reports with altogether 589 patients that reported on weight loss and cachexia in COVID-19 were identified. Disease severity of patients and the timing of the assessment during the disease course in these patients were variable-65 patients (11%) were intensive care treated at the time of assessment, and 183 (31%) were cared for in sub-intensive or intermediate care structures. The frequency of weight loss ≥5% (that defines cachexia) was 37% (range 29-52%). Correlates of weight loss occurrence were reported to be raised C-reactive protein levels, impaired renal function status, and longer duration of COVID-19 disease. Underweight status by WHO criteria (BMI < 18.5 kg/m2 ) was only observed in 4% of patients analysing data from seven studies with 6661 patients. Cachexia assessment in COVID-19 needs assessment of weight loss. COVID-19 associated cachexia is understood to affect muscle and fat tissue as is also seen in many other chronic illness-associated forms of cachexia. There are many factors that can contribute to body wasting in COVID-19, and they include loss of appetite and taste, fever and inflammation, immobilization, as well as general malnutrition, catabolic-anabolic imbalance, endocrine dysfunction, and organ-specific complications of COVID-19 disease such as cardiac and renal dysfunction. Treatment of COVID-19 patients should include a focus on nutritional support and rehabilitative exercise whenever possible. Specific anti-cachectic therapies for COVID-19 do not exist, but constitute a high medical need to prevent long-term disability due to acute COVID-19 disease.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cachexia; Epidemiology; Malnutrition; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Editorial

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Cachexia / etiology*
  • Cachexia / pathology
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition / etiology*
  • Malnutrition / pathology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*
  • Weight Loss*