A headache is a symptom that causes pain or discomfort on one or both sides of your head. Tense muscles, abnormal chemical activity, and irritated nerves and blood vessels can all cause a headache. Sometimes, a headache is a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as an ear infection or dehydration.
Loss of appetite occurs when you no longer have a desire to eat meals or snacks when you normally do. You don’t feel hungry or the idea of eating may make you feel nauseated. When you experience loss of appetite, you typically don’t take in the amount of calories that your body needs to function optimally on a daily basis.
Sometimes the pain of a severe headache such as a migraine can cause loss of appetite. These types of headaches typically occur on one side of the head and can lead to nausea and vision changes. Your appetite may return when your headache pain subsides.
Conversely, skipping meals—whether due to a loss of appetite or otherwise—can cause a headache.
Additional causes of headache and loss of appetite include:
- acute sinusitis
- altitude sickness
- brain infection (such as meningitis)
- end-stage kidney disease
- heat stroke
- iron-deficiency anemia
- lack of sleep
- virus (such as the flu)
Headache and loss of appetite also can be side effects of taking certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer. In rare instances, these symptoms can indicate the presence of a brain tumor.
While most headaches and loss of appetite will subside with time, others can signal a medical emergency. Seek immediate attention if you experience headache and loss of appetite along with these symptoms:
- sudden-onset headache that is extremely painful
- headache that changes your vision, balance, and ability to move your arms and legs
- you experience a severe head injury
- you have neck stiffness, a fever, and have been vomiting
- you notice sudden, unintentional weight loss
You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if your headache is less severe but causing symptoms that are interfering with your everyday life.
This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you’re concerned that you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
Don’t stop taking the medication unless your doctor directs you to do so—even if a medication is contributing to your headache and loss of appetite. Your doctor may prescribe medications known to enhance appetite, especially if you’re undergoing cancer treatments.
Your doctor will attempt to identify and treat any underlying causes. For example, your doctor will order a blood test to determine the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood if hypothyroidism is suspected. And they can prescribe medications to enhance your hormone levels if your levels are low.
Prolonged loss of appetite can affect your overall health because you may not be taking in enough calories for your body to function properly. You can keep your energy levels up by maximizing the amount of calories in the foods you can eat. Try high-protein meal replacement drinks or incorporate more proteins into your diet with foods such as peanut butter, eggs, or chicken.
You should drink fluids, such as water, between meals to reduce your risk for dehydration. However, avoid drinking too many fluids with your meals. This can fill you up faster and prevent you from taking in needed calories.
You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce your headache. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Try to rest and relax if you can in order to reduce tension-related headaches.
While you can’t always prevent headache and loss of appetite, leading a healthy lifestyle can help. This includes getting plenty of rest on a daily basis and eating nutritious foods such as lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
Taking frequent stretch breaks at work or school can help reduce muscle tension that leads to headache as well as anxiety. Seeking counseling may help if your symptoms are related to intense stress.
Take steps to make eating a more pleasant experience can help restore your appetite. Try playing relaxing music while you enjoy your favorite foods. Invite over a friend who always helps you feel better.