Fatigue is a constant state of tiredness, even when you’ve gotten your usual amount of sleep. This symptom develops over time and causes a drop in your physical, emotional, and psychological energy levels. You’re also more likely to feel unmotivated to participate in or do activities you normally enjoy.
Some other signs of fatigue include feeling:
- physically weaker than usual
- tired, despite rest
- as though you have less stamina or endurance than normal
- mentally tired and moody
Loss of appetite means you don’t have the same desire to eat as you used to. Signs of decreased appetite include not wanting to eat, unintentional weight loss, and not feeling hungry. The idea of eating food may make you feel nauseous, as if you might vomit after eating. Long-term loss of appetite is also known as anorexia, which can have a medical or psychological cause.
It may be a warning sign from your body when you feel fatigue and loss of appetite together. Read on to see what conditions may cause these symptoms.
What causes fatigue and loss of appetite?
Fatigue and loss of appetite are symptoms of several health conditions. The condition can be as common as the flu or a sign of something more serious like cancer. Often a loss of appetite can cause fatigue, especially if you aren’t getting enough calories or nutrients. Chronic, or long-term, pain can also interfere with your appetite and cause fatigue.
Some conditions that can cause continuous pain include:
- nerve damage
- postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
- pain after surgery
Other causes of fatigue and loss of appetite include:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- flu and common cold
- postpartum depression
- heat emergencies
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- alcohol withdrawal syndrome
You may also feel more tired than usual when your body is fighting off infection. Certain medications have side effects like nausea and drowsiness. These side effects can decrease your appetite and cause fatigue.
Medications that are known to cause these symptoms include:
These disorders can affect your appetite and energy level:
Fatigue and loss of appetite in children
You should bring your child to a doctor if they are feeling fatigued and have a decreased appetite. These symptoms can develop more quickly in children than adults. Potential causes include:
Other causes include:
- a slowed growth rate
- having recently taken antibiotics
- not getting enough rest
- not eating a balanced diet
Fatigue and loss of appetite in older adults
Fatigue and decreased appetite in older adults are both common occurrences. Some studies suggest increased age as a risk factor for fatigue.
Common causes of these symptoms in older adults include:
- heart disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- chronic lung disease or COPD
- neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- sleep disorders
- hormone changes
Other health conditions and symptoms that accompany fatigue and loss of appetite include:
- Addison’s disease
- cirrhosis, or liver damage
- congestive heart failure
- celiac disease
- kidney disease
- Crohn’s disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
When to seek medical help
Get immediate medical help if you’re experiencing fatigue and loss of appetite along with:
- blurred vision
- an irregular or racing heartbeat
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- sudden weight loss
- difficulty tolerating cold temperatures
You also should make an appointment to see your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms after taking a new medication, even after you’ve taken it for several days.
Seek emergency attention if you or someone you know has thoughts of harming themselves.
How will your doctor diagnose fatigue and loss of appetite?
While there isn’t a specific test for fatigue and loss of appetite, your doctor will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and ask about your other symptoms. This will help narrow down potential causes so that your doctor can order the right tests.
After asking questions about your health, they may order:
- blood tests to search for potential conditions, like hypothyroidism, celiac disease, or HIV
- a CT scan or ultrasound scan of the stomach
- an EKG or stress test for suspected cardiac involvement
- gastric emptying test, which can diagnose delayed gastric emptying
How do you treat fatigue and loss of appetite?
Your doctor will prescribe treatments and therapies depending on your underlying condition. Pain relief may help ease the symptoms. If medication is the cause of your fatigue and loss of appetite, your doctor may adjust your dosage or swap the medication.
Treating fatigue may include learning how to increase energy in your daily life. This can mean:
- getting more exercise
- creating a schedule for activity and rest
- talk therapy
- learning about self-care
Treating loss of appetite may include formulating a flexible meal schedule and incorporating favorite foods into meals. Studies also show that enhancing the taste and smell of foods can increase appetite in older adults. They found that adding sauces and seasonings resulted in a 10 percent increase in calorie consumption.
Other methods used to treat fatigue or loss of appetite include:
- appetite stimulants like Marinol
- low-dose corticosteroids to increase appetite
- sleeping pills to help you sleep better at night
- physical therapy to slowly increase exercise
- antidepressants or antianxiety medications, for depression or anxiety
- anti-nausea medications like Zofran for nausea caused by medical treatments
Counseling or participating in a support group may also help reduce depression and anxiety-related causes of fatigue and loss of appetite.
How can I prevent or treat fatigue and loss of appetite at home?
Your doctor or dietitian can offer suggestions for improving your appetite and reducing fatigue. For example, you may need to change your diet to include more high-calorie, protein-rich foods, and fewer sugary or empty calorie options. Taking your food in liquid form such as green smoothies or protein drinks may be easier on your stomach. If you have trouble with big meals, you can also try eating small meals throughout the day to help keep food down.
While fatigue and loss of appetite can’t always be prevented, living a healthy lifestyle can minimize lifestyle-related causes of fatigue and appetite loss. You may feel less fatigued and have more energy if you eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, exercise regularly, and sleep for at least seven hours each night.