Loss of muscle can be alarming. Muscle wasting, or atrophy, results from muscle disuse over a long period or from malnutrition. The muscle tissue decreases in bulk and length, which results in a noticeable loss of size and definition.
Neurological deficiencies limit range of motion, and can also result in a loss of size and power, causing your muscles to atrophy. Muscle wasting can be debilitating, particularly if it results from malnutrition related to a disease.
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Read more: What Causes Muscle Loss?
Muscle Wasting Symptoms
In addition to loss of muscle bulk, other muscle wasting symptoms can include progressive weakness, decreased range of motion and numbness or tingling in your extremities. Over time, you might notice that your balance and coordination aren't as good as they used to be, and you could experience falls.
Malnutrition and Muscle Atrophy Symptoms
Malnutrition-related muscle atrophy symptoms can include loss of appetite, dizziness upon standing up, low iron levels and other blood proteins. Deficiencies in protein and calories will cause the body to break muscle down to provide amino acids it needs to maintain organ function. Factors responsible for this condition include decreased food intake or a disease causing a decrease in nutrient absorption or increased loss of nutrients, like cancer.
Wasting occurs in stages, with changes becoming visible in laboratory testing values before any physical symptoms appear. Left untreated, muscle wasting can result in morbidity or death. Diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac sprue, protein-energy malnutrition, gluten allergy and cancer can cause nutrient-absorption issues and lead to muscle wasting, according to the Merck Manual.
Limited Activity and Atrophy
Physical activity is crucial for your muscles to stay fit, appropriate in size, tone and capabilities. Muscle wasting symptoms include visible weight loss, limited definition and loss of muscle strength. Sedentary jobs and lifestyles promote muscle atrophy because your daily routine doesn't include activity that challenges your muscles to grow or maintain their current size and strength level.
In addition to low physical activity, debilitating chronic diseases, such as cancer and severe burns, that keep sufferers bedridden can lead to muscle wasting, as can decreased physical activity related to aging, according to MedlinePlus.
Neurological Muscle Deterioration
Neurological causes of muscle deterioration are severe and often happen rapidly. Some kind of damage to your nervous system limits physical abilities and range of motion and saps your strength. Symptoms of nerve damage and muscle wasting include uncontrolled twitching, muscle cramping, decreased strength and changes in your skin, hair and nails, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Neurological diseases that can cause muscle wasting include myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Lou Gehrig's disease, muscular dystrophy and spinal-cord injuries.
Preventing Muscle Atrophy Symptoms
As you age, it is inevitable that you will experience some muscle loss or other illness or injury that can lead to muscle loss from periods of immobility. However, there are steps you can take to reduce this risk.
According to a study published in 2013 by Nutrition Research Reviews, increasing dietary intake of protein and amino acid supplements can help prevent muscle atrophy during prolonged periods of inactivity. Additional dietary supplements that could possibly help prevent muscle atrophy include antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents such as fish oil.
Read more: How to Build Up Atrophied Muscles
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet
- MedlinePlus: Muscle Atrophy
- Merck Manual: Overview of Undernutrition
- Nutrition Research Reviews: Nutritional Strategies to Counteract Muscle Atrophy Caused by Disuse and to Improve Recovery
- Bel Marra Health: How to Recover From Muscle Atrophy With Diet and Exercises
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.