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Overview of Sarcopenia: Causes, symptoms & treatment

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Sarcopenia, an age-related condition, may increase by up to 38% in the elderly population by 2025. Thus, it becomes vital to understand this condition, as knowing the symptoms and causes can help you take timely action for yourself or your elderly parents. Read on to learn more about this health problem.




What is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia is a condition in which an individual loses muscle mass and strength. It can hinder an individual’s everyday activities, such as walking, lifting objects, and climbing stairs. This occurs due to the natural ageing process and can affect the musculoskeletal system. This condition can even affect older adults with a high body mass index and is referred to as Sarcopenia obesity. 

Symptoms of Sarcopenia

The common signs individuals with this condition face are as follows.

  • Constant weakness

  • Loss of stamina

  • Poor balance

  • Difficulty in climbing stairs

  • Decrease In muscle size

  • Reduction of physical activity

Signs vary depending on how much muscle mass an individual has lost. Well, a decrease in physical activity can cause more muscle mass loss. Eventually, this condition adversely affects the quality of life and individuals become dependent on others.

Causes of Sarcopenia

The most common cause of this condition is a lack of physical activity. However, those with an active lifestyle may also face this problem. This means there are other factors that could lead to the development of the condition, which can be the following.

  • Lower concentrations of hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen, insulin, and growth hormone.

  • Lack of enough calorie and protein intake on a daily basis that can sustain muscle mass.

  • A decrease in the ability of the body to turn protein into energy.

  • Reduction in nerve cells that make your brain send signals to your muscles to begin the movement.

Other problems that can cause this condition are as follows.

  • Genetics

  • Stress

  • High intake of alcohol

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • Chronic health problems

  • Liver, heart, and kidney disorders

Risk factors of Sarcopenia

Here is a rundown of some of the risk factors and complications associated with this condition.

  • High chances of hospitalisation

  • Increased risk of death

  • Falls and fractures

  • Malnutrition (as older adults tend to eat less)

Further, this problem is also seen in individuals who have poor dietary habits (consume acid-producing foods like grains and processed foods) and have type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

There is no doubt that it is common in older adults. But the saddest thing is many individuals are not aware of this disease, and hence they do not get treated. 

According to some surveys published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it was noted that around 41% of women and 38% of men that are above 50 years of age consume less amount of protein than the recommended daily value.

These percentages clearly show that older individuals are prone to developing Sarcopenia. And factors like food, age, and physical activity play a major role in maintaining muscle mass.

Also, a review article on NCBI states that individuals who are over 30 and lead a sedentary lifestyle lose up to 3 to 8% muscle mass every ten years. So, it becomes crucial to stay physically fit and consume a healthy diet that contains a high amount of protein. Doing so will reduce the risk of developing Sarcopenia in later years of life.

How is Sarcopenia diagnosed?

There is no single test that can diagnose this condition. But a healthcare professional would count on the following to understand the severity of Sarcopenia.

1. Physical exam

A doctor would ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. You may also be asked to complete a questionnaire based on SARCF, which stands for strength, assistance with walking, rising from a chair or bed, climbing stairs, and falls. If your score comes out to be four or more, then your doctor will do more tests.

2. Muscle strength tests

Here is the list of tests that helps determine how severe your condition is.

  • Handgrip test to evaluate the strength of your muscles.

  • Walking speed test to see how much time you take to travel 4 metres at your normal walking speed.

  • Chair stand test to see how many times you can sit or rise from a chair without using your arms. This test lasts for 30 seconds.

  • Short physical performance battery test in which you perform three tasks, which are- standing from a chair, balancing once you stand, and walking at your usual pace.

  • Timed up and go test to see how much time you take to stand up from a chair, walk around 3 metres away and then back to the chair, and lastly, sit back in the chair.

3. Imaging tests

Your doctor may order the following tests to measure your muscle mass.

  • DEXA or DXA (Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry): It measures bone density and skeletal mass, including bone mass and fat mass.

  • BIA (Bioelectrical impedance analysis): This test is used to measure body fat and muscle mass.

This condition is considered severe if an individual is detected with low muscle strength, low physical performance, and low muscle quality and quantity.

Treatment of Sarcopenia

Right now, there is no specific medication for this condition. There are some treatments that are under investigation, which are as follows.

1. Hormone replacement therapy

This therapy can help increase lean body mass and decrease the fat in the abdomen. Also, it can prevent bone loss in women after menopause. This therapy is still under consideration as it may lead to some cancers and other health issues.

2. Medications

As stated above, there are no particular medications, but researchers are investigating the following.

  • Testosterone supplements

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors

  • Growth hormone supplements

  • Medications for the treatment of the metabolic syndrome

  • Vitamin D

  • Urocortin II

By now, you know that this condition has no treatment at present. So, what you can do is count on exercise and a protein-rich diet.

3. Exercise

Doctors suggest individuals stay physically active by doing resistance and strength training. These types of training help increase stamina, improve muscle strength, and balance hormone levels. Also, your body’s ability to convert protein to energy will also increase over time.

Resistance and strength training involves the use of resistance bands and weights (including body weight). The number of workout repetitions, frequency, and intensity of exercise play a huge role in the training. That is why it is imperative you train under an experienced trainer who can develop a workout plan. Also, the chances of injury become less when you do exercises in the presence of a trainer.

4. Diet

Another thing you can do is boost your protein intake and cut back on processed foods, including sweets. You can get high-quality protein by adding the following foods to your diet, which are: protein powder, tofu, yoghurt, beans, lentils, tuna, and turkey breast.

Frequently asked questions

These are some of the commonly asked queries, along with their answers pertaining to Sarcopenia


Which group is most at risk of developing Sarcopenia?

According to studies, individuals who are over 65 years of age are at higher risk of getting this condition.

What are the two main reasons for Sarcopenia?

The two main reasons for this health problem are a decrease in growth hormones and an increase in inflammation. Apart from these, inadequate nutrition and lack of physical exercise are also the key factors in developing this condition.

Which supplements should I take for Sarcopenia?

You can consume vitamin D, creatine, whey protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, as they are beneficial in promoting healthy muscle mass.

Which food items are good for Sarcopenia?

A balanced and protein-rich diet that has fruits and vegetables can help in protecting against muscle wasting and are good for people suffering from this condition.

Does Sarcopenia cause death?

This health problem is generally associated with falls and decreased physical activity, and it can even lead to death.

Which medications are used to treat Sarcopenia?

Researchers are investigating several possibilities, but presently there are no FDA-approved medications for this problem.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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