Abdominal pain can be sharp, dull, or burning. It can also cause many additional effects, including loss of appetite. Severe pain can sometimes make you feel too sick to eat.
The reverse can also be true. Loss of appetite and not eating can lead to abdominal pain. Loss of appetite happens when you lose the desire to eat during typical meal or snack times.
A variety of lifestyle habits and conditions can cause abdominal pain and loss of appetite.
What causes abdominal pain and loss of appetite?
Your abdomen houses many organs, including your stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, and appendix. Abdominal pain may be related to problems with one or more of these organs. Sometimes abdominal pain and loss of appetite have mental causes, rather than physical ones. For example, stress, anxiety, grief, or depression can potentially cause these symptoms.
- viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu
- acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Crohn’s disease, a condition that causes intestinal inflammation
- gastritis, or irritation of your stomach lining
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- ulcerative colitis (UC)
- peptic ulcers
- celiac disease, or gluten intolerance
- biliary (bile duct) obstruction
- bacterial gastroenteritis
- E. coli infection
- yellow fever
- West Nile virus infection (West Nile fever)
- chlamydia infection
- chronic pancreatitis
- infectious mononucleosis
- hookworm infections
- acute pancreatitis
Infections and inflammation causes
Taking certain medications or undergoing certain treatments can also lead to abdominal pain and appetite loss. Talk to your doctor if you suspect that a medication or treatment that you’re using is irritating your stomach or affecting your appetite.
Examples of medications that can cause stomach pain and appetite loss include:
Abusing recreational or illegal drugs, such as alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, or heroin, can also cause these symptoms.
Here is a list of other causes for abdominal pain and loss of appetite:
- food poisoning
- chronic kidney disease or kidney failure
- chronic liver disease or liver failure
- hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid
- pregnancy, particularly in your first trimester
- acetaminophen overdose
- diabetic ketoacidosis
- alcoholic ketoacidosis
- Wilms’ tumor
- dissection of the aorta
- alcoholic liver disease
- chemical burns
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- torsion of testes
- drug allergy
- Addisonian crisis (acute adrenal crisis)
- pancreatic cancer
- underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
- Addison’s disease
- stomach cancer (gastric adenocarcinoma)
- ectopic pregnancy
- ovarian cancer
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
When should I seek medical help?
Seek immediate medical help if you experience the following symptoms, along with abdominal pain and loss of appetite:
- bloody stool
- vomiting blood
- uncontrolled vomiting
- yellowing of your skin or eyes
- thoughts of hurting yourself
- thoughts that life is no longer worth living
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience the following symptoms, along with abdominal pain and loss of appetite:
- abdominal swelling
- loose stool that persists for more than two days
- sudden, unexplained weight loss
Notify your doctor if you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant.
You should also contact your doctor if you experience abdominal pain and loss of appetite that don’t resolve within two days, even if they aren’t accompanied by other symptoms. They may be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.
This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you’re concerned you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
How are abdominal pain and loss of appetite treated?
To treat your abdominal pain and loss of appetite, your doctor will try to identify and address their underlying cause. They’ll likely start by asking you about your symptoms and medical history. They’ll want to know about the quality of your pain. They’ll also ask about when it started, what makes the pain worse or better, and whether you have other symptoms.
They may also ask if you’ve taken a new medication, consumed spoiled food, been around anyone with similar symptoms, or traveled to another country. In some cases, your doctor may also order blood, urine, stool, or imaging tests to check for potential causes.
Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on your diagnosis. Ask them for more information about your specific diagnosis, treatment options, and outlook.
If you suspect that a medication is causing your symptoms, don’t stop taking it until you talk to your doctor first.
How can I ease abdominal pain and loss of appetite at home?
In addition to following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan, some home care strategies may help.
For example, staying hydrated is very important. It can help reduce potential complications of abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Eating small frequent meals with bland ingredients may be less likely to upset your stomach. Some examples of these ingredients include:
- cooked fruits without seeds, such as applesauce
- plain oatmeal
- plain toast
- plain rice
- clear soup
Avoid spicy, high-fiber, and raw foods when you’re experiencing abdominal pain.
If your symptoms are caused by a viral infection, such as the stomach flu, drink plenty of clear fluids, and get lots of rest.
How can I prevent abdominal pain and loss of appetite?
You can take steps to lower your risk of developing abdominal pain and loss of appetite. These steps may require you to avoid some causes, but also include specific practices in your daily routine. For example:
- Avoid eating undercooked or raw foods to help prevent food poisoning.
- Wash your hands regularly to lower your risk of viral infections, such as the flu.
- Avoid drinking large quantities of alcohol or using street drugs, such as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin.
- Improve your mental health by practicing stress-relief strategies, such as exercising regularly, journaling, or meditating.
If you’re taking medications known to cause stomach upset, ask your doctor or pharmacist what you can do to reduce your symptoms. It may help to take your medication with food.