What Are Abdominal Pain and Loss of Appetite?

Abdominal pain can feel sharp or dull, stabbing or burning. Pain can cause many additional effects, including loss of appetite.

The reverse can also be true: loss of appetite and not eating can lead to abdominal pain. Loss of appetite refers to the lack of a desire to eat during typical meal or snack times.

What Causes Abdominal Pain and Loss of Appetite?

The abdomen houses many organs, including the intestines, kidneys, appendix, spleen, stomach, gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. Abdominal pain may be related to one or several of these structures. Severe pain can make a person feel too sick to eat.

Examples of conditions that can cause abdominal pain and loss of appetite include:

  • acid reflux (GERD)
  • chronic kidney disease/kidney failure 
  • chronic liver disease
  • Crohn’s disease (a condition that causes intestinal inflammation)
  • gastritis (irritation of the stomach lining)
  • heavy drinking
  • hepatitis
  • hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • peptic ulcer
  • pregnancy (particularly in the first trimester)
  • ulcerative colitis (UC)
  • viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Sometimes abdominal pain and loss of appetite have mental causes rather than physical ones. For example, these symptoms are associated with anxiety, depression, grief, stress, and/or sadness.

Taking certain medications or undergoing treatments, such as cancer treatments, can also contribute to abdominal pain and appetite loss. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned that a medication is irritating your stomach and/or affecting your appetite.

Examples of medications that can cause stomach pain and appetite loss include:

  • antibiotics
  • codeine
  • morphine
  • street drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin

When to Seek Medical Help

Seek immediate medical help if you experience the following symptoms along with abdominal pain and loss of appetite:

  • bloody stool
  • fainting
  • uncontrolled vomiting
  • vomiting blood
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes

Seek medical attention if you experience sudden, unexplained weight loss accompanied by abdominal pain and loss of appetite, or if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or that life is no longer worth living.

Notify your doctor if you’re pregnant or think you could be pregnant, and the pain persists.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • abdominal swelling
  • loose stools that persist for more than two days
  • pain and appetite loss that does not go away in two days

This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you are concerned you may be experiencing a medical emergency.

How Are Abdominal Pain and Loss of Appetite Treated?

Your doctor will typically try to pinpoint the cause of your abdominal pain and appetite loss. They may ask if you’ve taken a new medication or eaten spoiled food. They’ll also want to know how your pain feels, what makes it worse, how long it has lasted, and other relevant symptoms.

If you suspect a medication is causing your symptoms, don’t stop taking the medication until you talk to your doctor.  

Home Care

Staying hydrated can reduce abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Eating small, frequent meals with bland ingredients is less likely to upset your stomach. Some examples of these foods include:

  • canned, cooked, or frozen vegetables
  • eggs
  • canned or cooked fruits without seeds, such as applesauce
  • oatmeal
  • pudding or custard
  • refined grain bread
  • soup
  • tofu

Avoid spicy, high-fiber, and raw foods.

How Can I Prevent Abdominal Pain and Loss of Appetite?

Avoiding undercooked or raw foods can help prevent abdominal pain and loss of appetite.

If you’re taking medications known to cause stomach upset, ask your doctor or pharmacist what you can do to reduce your symptoms, such as taking the medication with food.

Taking steps to improve your mental health, such as meditating, exercising, journaling, or practicing other stress-relieving measures can help you reduce stress and anxiety.