What causes loss of appetite? 160 possible conditions

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What Is a Decreased Appetite?

A decreased appetite occurs when you have a reduced desire to eat. It may also be known as a poor appetite or loss of appetite.

A wide variety of conditions can cause your appetite to decrease, ranging from mental conditions to physical illnesses.

If you develop a loss of appetite, you may also experience related symptoms, such as weight loss or malnutrition. These can be serious if left untreated, so it is important to find the reason behind your decreased appetite and treat it.

What Causes A Decreased Appetite?

A number of conditions can lead to a decreased appetite. In most cases, your appetite will return to normal once the original condition is treated.

Bacteria and Viruses

Most commonly, a decreased appetite is due to a bacterial or viral infection. The symptom appears along with other influenza symptoms—such as coughing, tiredness, or sneezing. As these illnesses are typically very short-term and rarely last over a few weeks, your appetite will return to normal quickly.

Psychological Causes

There are various psychological causes for a decreased appetite. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many elderly people lose their appetites, though the reason why is unknown. (NIH, 2010) Your appetite may also tend to decrease when you are sad, depressed, grieving, or anxious.

Boredom and stress have also been linked to a decreased appetite.

Eating disorders—such as anorexia nervosa—can also lead to a decreased appetite overall. A person with anorexia undergoes self-starvation or other methods to lose weight. People who suffer from this condition are typically underweight and have an extreme fear of gaining weight. Anorexia nervosa can also cause malnutrition.

Physical Causes

The following medical conditions may cause your appetite to decrease:

  • chronic liver disease or kidney failure
  • heart failure
  • hepatitis
  • HIV
  • dementia
  • hypothyroidism, a condition where your thyroid is under-active

In rare instances, cancer can cause loss of appetite, particularly if it is concentrated in your colon, stomach, ovaries, or pancreas.

Pregnancy can also cause a loss of appetite during the first trimester.

Medicines

Some medications and drugs may reduce your appetite. These include street drugs—such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines—along with prescribed medications, such as some antibiotics, codeine, morphine, and chemotherapy drugs.

When to Seek Emergency Treatment

Always contact your doctor right away if you begin to lose weight rapidly for no apparent reason.

It is also important to seek immediate medical help if your decreased appetite could be a result of depression, alcohol abuse, or an eating disorder such as anorexia.

How Is A Decreased Appetite Treated?

Treatment for a decreased appetite will depend on its cause. If the cause is a bacterial or viral infection you will usually not require treatment, as your appetite will quickly return once your infection is cured.

Home Care

If the decrease is due to a medical condition like cancer or chronic illness, it can be difficult to stimulate your appetite. However, eating with family and friends, cooking your favourite foods, or going out to eat at restaurants may help to encourage eating. Light exercise may help increase appetite, or you might consider focusing on eating just one large meal per day, with light snacks in between.

Eating frequent small meals can be helpful, and these are usually easier on the stomach than large meals. To ensure you are getting enough nutrients from food, meals should be high in calories and protein. You may also want to try liquid protein drinks.

It can be useful to keep a diary of what you eat and drink over a period of a few days to a week. This will help your doctor to assess your nutritional intake and the extent of your decreased appetite.

Medical Care

During your appointment, your doctor will try to create a full picture of your symptom. He or she will measure your weight and height and compare this to the average for the population.

You will also be asked about your medical history, any medications you take, and your diet. Be prepared to answer questions about:

  • when the symptom started
  • whether it is mild or severe
  • how much weight you have lost
  • if there were any trigger events
  • if you have any other symptoms

It may then be necessary to conduct tests to find the cause of your decreased appetite. Possible tests include:

  • an ultrasound of your abdomen
  • a complete blood count
  • tests of your liver, thyroid and kidney function—these usually require only a blood sample
  • an upper GI series—X-rays that examine your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine

In some cases, you will be tested for pregnancy and HIV. Your urine may be tested for traces of drugs.

If your decreased appetite has resulted in malnutrition, you may be given nutrients through an intravenous (IV) line.

Your doctor may refer to you to a mental health specialist or addiction counselor if your loss of appetite is a result of depression, an eating disorder, or drug use.

Loss of appetite caused by medications may be treated by changing your dosage or switching your prescription. Never change your medications without first consulting your doctor.

What Is the Outcome if Decreased Appetite Is Not Treated?

If your decreased appetite is caused by a short-term condition, you are likely to recover naturally without any long-term effects.

However, if your decreased appetite is caused by a medical condition, the condition could worsen without treatment.

If left untreated, your decreased appetite can also be accompanied with more severe symptoms, such as:

  • extreme fatigue
  • weight loss
  • a rapid heart rate
  • a fever
  • irritability
  • general ill feeling

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is an eating disorder in which obsessive worry about body weight and the food you eat can result in severe weight loss. Symptoms include constipation, missed period, and thinning hair.

Read more »

2

Anxiety

What is anxiety? Anxiety often manifests itself as an apprehension about daily life. Learn the basics with this overview of the types of anxiety disorders.

Read more »

3

Depression Overview

Depression is a mood disorder that can cause extreme and persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. Depression type largely determines what kind of medical treatment is best.

Read more »

4

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is a parasitic infection of the small intestine. It may cause fatigue, stomach pain, bloating, and excessive gas.

Read more »

5

Heartburn

Heartburn typically occurs when contents from the stomach back up into the esophagus. This causes a burning sensation in the chest and a bitter taste in the throat or mouth. Heartburn may be prevented by avoiding food...

Read more »

6

Hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland produces a hormone that controls how your cells use energy (metabolize). Hypothyroidism occurs when the body doesn't produce enough. Untreated, it can cause comlications like obesity and heart disease.

Read more »

7

Pregnancy

Bleeding or spotting, increased need to urinate, tender breasts, fatigue, nausea, and missed period are signs of pregnancy.

Read more »

8

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver. It's usually caused by a viral infection. There are several types of hepatitis, including: A, B, C, D, and E. Symptoms may not occur until liver damage occurs.

Read more »

9

PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman

Read more »

10

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol dependence. It occurs when you drink so much over time that your body becomes dependent on or addicted to alcohol. When this happens, alcohol use becomes the most important thing i...

Read more »

11

Heat Emergencies

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Heat emergencies are health crises caused by exposure to hot weather and sun. Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages are serious.

Read more »

12

Cold and Flu Overview

Common colds and influenza are contagious infections that affect the respiratory system. Both are airborne illnesses, spread through coughing and sneezing. Shared symptoms include headache, cough, sore throat, and more.

Read more »

13

Gastritis

Gastritis is acute or chronic inflammation of the protective lining of the stomach. It's often caused by the bacterium H. pylori, but can also be the result of excessive NSAID, alcohol, or cocaine consumption.

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14

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation in the pancreas, which causes pain and swelling in the upper left side of the abdomen, nausea, and burping.

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15

Types of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux symptoms are caused when stomach contents flow up from the stomach back into the esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn, stomach pain, and burping.

Read more »

16

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

Read more »

17

Low Blood Sodium (Hyponatremia)

Low blood sodium, or hyponatremia, occurs when water and sodium are out of balance in your body. A quick drop in sodium levels can cause weakness, headache, nausea, and muscle cramps.

Read more »

18

Hypercalcemia

Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too much calcium in your blood. Serious cases could cause symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, and weakness.

Read more »

19

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is caused by a number of different viruses. Its symptoms usually last for two to three days.

Read more »

20

AIDS

There are many symptoms of the autoimmune disease HIV/AIDS, including persistent skin rashes, night sweats, and mouth sores.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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