Example of wasting shown with fresh apple compared next to bruised and wrinkled appleIn medicine, wasting is used to describe an organ or tissue that is shrinking in size. This may be due to an inadequate blood supply, poor nutrition or nerve damage to the affected part of the body.

In some cases a lack of hormones may lead to shrinkage of the organ, for example, with breast shrinkage after menopause. A reduced blood supply can starve the tissue of essential nutrients and oxygen.

If nerves are damaged, there are no signals from the brain or spinal cord to activate the tissue (e.g. muscles) so they gradually shrink. In paraplegics there is no nerve stimulation to muscles below the level of the spinal damage, so the muscles shrink and waste away.

Generalised wasting may be due to a number of diseases including:

  • diabetes mellitus;
  • thyrotoxicosis (increased thyroid hormone in blood);
  • Addison’s disease (inadequate hormones produced by adrenal glands);
  • phaeochromocytoma (adrenal gland tumour);
  • occult carcinoma (cancer of unknown origin);
  • hypopituitarism (inadequate hormones produced by pituitary gland);
  • anorexia nervosa,
  • some fad diets.

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