A headache is a feeling of 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 ear infection or dehydration.
Loss of appetite is when you no longer have a desire to eat meals or snacks when you normally would. You may not feel hungry, or the idea of eating may make you feel nauseated. With a loss of appetite, you typically don’t take in the 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 can occur on one or both sides of the head and can also lead to nausea and vision changes. Your appetite may return when your headache subsides.
Causes involving infections and inflammation include:
- acute sinusitis
- brain infection, such as meningitis
- virus, such as the flu
- common cold
- parrot fever (psittacosis)
- valley fever (coccidioidomycosis)
- yellow fever
- acute HIV infection
- Colorado tick fever
- hand, foot, and mouth disease
- West Nile virus infection (West Nile fever)
- strep throat
- swine flu
- infectious mononucleosis
- acute pneumonia
Causes involving diabetes include:
- hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
- diabetic nephropathy
Psychological factors can also contribute to headache and loss of appetite. These include:
Additional health conditions that can cause headache and loss of appetite include:
- altitude sickness
- end-stage kidney disease
- heat stroke
- iron deficiency anemia
- lack of sleep
- PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- chemical burns
- poisoning due to black widow spider venom (black widow spider bites)
- adult brain tumor
- chronic kidney disease/kidney failure
- end-stage kidney disease
- acute mountain sickness
- Addisonian crisis (acute adrenal crisis)
- vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders
- systemic lupus erythematosus
- brain aneurysm
- pituitary cancer
- subdural hematoma
- underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
- low blood sodium (hyponatremia)
- temporal arteritis
- megaloblastic anemia
- hepatitis A
- migraine with aura
- alcohol withdrawal syndrome
Headache and loss of appetite can be side effects of taking certain medications. For example, chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer can cause these symptoms. In rare instances, these symptoms can indicate the presence of a brain tumor.
Many conditions can produce headache and loss of appetite.
When to seek medical help
While most headaches and loss of appetite subside with time, others can signal a medical emergency. Seek immediate attention if you experience headache and loss of appetite along with:
- sudden onset of a headache that is extremely painful
- severe headache that is different from your typical headaches
- headache that changes your vision, balance, and ability to move your arms and legs
- neck stiffness, fever, and vomiting
- sudden and unintentional weight loss
- severe head injury
You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if your headache is less severe but causes symptoms that interfere with your everyday life.
At the doctor’s office
Your doctor will try to identify and treat any underlying causes. For example, they may order a blood test to determine the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood if they suspect hypothyroidism is causing your symptoms. They can also prescribe medications to enhance your hormone levels if they’re low.
If a prescribed medication is contributing to your headache and loss of appetite, talk to your doctor. Don’t stop taking your medication until you discuss it with your doctor. They may prescribe other medications known to enhance appetite, especially if you’re undergoing cancer treatments.
Prolonged loss of appetite can affect your overall health. You may not be taking in enough calories for your body to function properly. 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, and chicken.
You should drink fluids such as water between meals to reduce your risk of dehydration. However, avoid drinking too many fluids with your meals. Doing so can fill you up faster and prevent you from taking in needed calories.
Try to rest and relax to reduce tension-related headaches.
You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce a headache. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Taking these medications regularly over a long period of time can result in rebound headaches if you stop taking them, so you should use them only when you really need them.
You can’t always prevent headache and loss of appetite, but 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 headaches as well as anxiety. Counseling may help if your symptoms are related to intense stress.