Loss of appetite happens when you lose the desire to eat at your typical mealtimes. When this happens, the idea of eating food becomes unappealing. In some cases, you may also experience nausea. Nausea occurs when you feel uneasy or sick to your stomach, as if you might vomit.
What causes loss of appetite and nausea?
Loss of appetite and nausea can occur together when you’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with your stomach. When this happens, symptoms typically subside quickly. But in some cases, loss of appetite and nausea can signal a more serious condition.
Causes involving infection and inflammation include:
- West Nile virus infection (West Nile fever)
- yellow fever
- hookworm infections
- swine flu
- acute pancreatitis
- Colorado tick fever
- infectious mononucleosis
- chlamydia infection
- E. coli infection
- strep throat
- bacterial gastroenteritis
- cold and flu
Causes involving gastrointestinal factors include:
- intestinal blockages
- stomach ulcers or small intestine ulcers
- viral gastroenteritis
- intestinal obstruction
- stomach ulcer
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- peptic ulcer
Causes involving cancer include:
Psychological factors can also contribute to headache and loss of appetite. These include:
Additional health conditions that can cause loss of appetite and nausea include:
- acetaminophen overdose
- abdominal aortic aneurysm
- poisoning due to black widow spider venom (black widow spider bites)
- food poisoning
- morning sickness
- motion sickness or seasickness
- food allergies or intolerances, such as celiac disease
- migraine headaches
- pain from a chronic or acute condition
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease
- heart failure
- acute mountain sickness
- brain aneurysm
- end-stage kidney disease
- low blood sodium (hyponatremia)
- epidural hematoma
- Addison’s disease
- subdural hematoma
- Addisonian crisis (acute adrenal crisis)
- chronic pancreatitis
- ischemic cardiomyopathy
- Reye’s syndrome
- ectopic pregnancy
- alcoholic ketoacidosis
- alcoholic liver disease
- biliary (bile duct) obstruction
- testicular torsion
- diabetic ketoacidosis
- Meniere’s disease
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- gestational diabetes
- hyperemesis gravidarum
Certain medications, such as some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can also cause loss of appetite and nausea.
When should you seek medical help?
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience loss of appetite and nausea accompanied by chest pain, blurred vision, weakness, loss of sensation in your body, or confusion. These symptoms could indicate a heart attack or stroke.
You should also seek immediate medical help if your loss of appetite and nausea are accompanied by:
- symptoms of dehydration, such as low urine output, dry mouth, increased thirst, lethargy, and dizziness
- a fever greater than 100.3°F (38°C)
- the inability to eat or drink for more than 12 hours
- the smell of feces on your breath
- severe abdominal pain
- severe headache
- neck stiffness
This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you’re concerned that you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
How are loss of appetite and nausea treated?
Your doctor will address your symptoms by trying to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your loss of appetite and nausea. For example, they may recommend:
- changes to your medication routine, if your loss of appetite and nausea are related to certain medications that you take
- starting an intravenous (IV) line to replenish your fluids if your symptoms are linked to dehydration
- surgery or blood thinning medications if your symptoms are caused by a heart attack or stroke
Ask your doctor for more information about your specific diagnosis and treatment options.
How can you treat loss of appetite and nausea at home?
If your loss of appetite and nausea are caused by mild dehydration, taking small sips of clear fluids or beverages containing electrolytes may help relieve your symptoms.
If they’re are caused by stress or anxiety, it may help to take a walk, conduct rhythmic breathing exercises, or practice other stress-relief strategies.
Certain foods may also help settle your stomach, including:
- plain toast
- plain rice
Avoiding fatty, spicy, high-fiber, or raw foods until your symptoms subside may also help.
If your symptoms persist or recur regularly, make an appointment with your doctor. You might have an underlying medical condition that requires treatment. If left untreated, prolonged loss of appetite can lead to poor nutrition.
How can you prevent loss of appetite and nausea?
Some causes of loss of appetite and nausea are difficult prevent. But you can take steps to avoid other causes. For example:
- Drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent dehydration.
- Staying in a seated position after eating can help prevent acid reflux.
If you’re prone to loss of appetite and nausea, eating small meals throughout the day may help you maintain your appetite and ward off uncomfortable stomach symptoms. Eating cold or room-temperature foods may also help, since they don’t smell as strongly as hot foods.
If you experience loss of appetite and nausea related to pregnancy, adjusting your daily diet or eating schedule may help alleviate your symptoms. For example, try eating a few plain crackers before getting up in the morning.