Alternative names: Loss of appetite; Decreased appetite; Anorexia
Definition: A decreased appetite is when your desire to eat is reduced. The medical term for a loss of appetite is anorexia.
Any illness can reduce appetite. If the illness is treatable, the appetite should return when the condition is cured.
Loss of appetite can cause weight loss.
A decreased appetite is almost always seen in older adults. Often, no physical cause is found. Emotions such as sadness, depression, or grief can lead to a loss of appetite.
Cancer can also cause decreased appetite. You may lose weight without trying. Cancers that may cause you to lose your appetite include:
- Colon cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
Other causes of decreased appetite include:
- Chronic liver disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heart failure
- Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Pregnancy (first trimester)
- Use of certain medicines, including antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, codeine, and morphine
- Use of street drugs, including amphetamines (speed), cocaine, and heroin
People with cancer or a chronic illness need to increase their protein and calorie intake by eating high-calorie, nutritious snacks or several small meals during the day. Liquid protein drinks may be helpful.
Family members should try to supply favorite foods to help stimulate the person’s appetite.
Keep a record of what you eat and drink for 24 hours. This is called a diet history.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you are losing a lot of weight without trying.
Seek medical help if decreased appetite occurs along with other signs of depression, drug or alcohol use, or an eating disorder.
For loss of appetite caused by medicines, ask your provider about changing the dosage or medicine. Do not stop taking any medicine without first talking to your provider.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The provider will perform a physical exam and will check your height and weight.
You’ll be asked about diet and medical history. Questions may include:
- Is the decreased appetite severe or mild?
- Have you lost any weight? How much?
- Is the decreased appetite a new symptom?
- If so, did it start after an upsetting event, such as the death of a family member or friend?
- What other symptoms are present?
Tests that may be done include imaging tests, such as x-ray or ultrasound. Blood and urine tests may also be ordered.
In cases of severe malnutrition, nutrients are given through a vein (intravenously). This may require a hospital stay.
Mason JB. Nutritional principles and assessment of the gastroenterology patient. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 5.
McGee S. Protein-energy malnutrition and weight loss. In: McGee S, ed. Evidence-Based Physical Diagnosis. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 12.
Mcquaid K. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 132.