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. The medical term for this
A wide variety of conditions can cause your appetite to decrease. These range
from mental conditions to physical illnesses.
If you develop a loss of appetite, you may also have related symptoms, such
as weight loss or malnutrition. These can be serious if left untreated, so it’s
important to find the reason behind your decreased appetite and treat it.
What causes a
A number of conditions can lead to a decreased appetite. In most cases, your
appetite will return to normal once the underlying condition is treated.
Bacteria and viruses
Anorexia can be caused by bacterial, viral, fungal, or other infections at
any location. It could be the result of an upper respiratory infection,
pneumonia, gastroenteritis, colitis, a skin infection, or meningitis, just to
name a few. After proper treatment
for the illness, your appetite will return.
There are various psychological causes for a decreased appetite. Many older
adults lose their appetites. Your appetite may also tend to decrease
when you’re sad, depressed, grieving, or anxious.
Boredom and stress have also been linked to a decreased
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, can also lead to a decreased
appetite overall. A person with anorexia nervosa undergoes self-starvation or
other methods to lose weight. People who have this condition are typically underweight and have a fear of gaining weight.
Anorexia nervosa can also cause malnutrition.
The following medical conditions may cause your appetite to decrease:
Cancer can also cause loss of appetite, particularly if it’s concentrated in
the following areas:
Pregnancy can also cause a loss of appetite
during the first trimester.
Some medications and drugs may reduce your appetite. These include street
drugs — such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines — along with prescribed medications.
Prescription medications that reduce appetite include:
When to seek
Always contact your doctor right away if you begin to lose weight rapidly
for no apparent reason.
It’s also important to seek immediate medical help if your decreased
appetite could be a result of depression, alcohol, or an eating disorder such as anorexia
nervosa or bulimia.
How is a decreased
Treatment for a decreased appetite will depend on its cause. If the cause is
a bacterial or viral infection, you won’t usually require specific treatment
for anorexia, as your appetite will quickly return once your infection is
If anorexia is due to a medical condition such as cancer or chronic illness,
it can be difficult to stimulate your appetite. However, eating with family and
friends, cooking your favorite 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’re 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.
During your appointment, your doctor will try to create a full picture of
your symptom. They’ll measure your weight and height and compare this to the
average for the population.
You’ll 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’s mild or severe
- how much weight you’ve 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:
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 line.
Your doctor may also prescribe oral medication to stimulate your appetite.
Your doctor may refer to you to a mental health specialist or counselor if
your loss of appetite is a result of depression, an eating disorder, or drug
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’re
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:
If your decreased appetite
persists and you develop malnutrition or vitamin and electrolyte deficiencies,
you can have life-threatening complications. Therefore, it’s important to seek
medical attention if you have anorexia that does not resolve after an acute
illness or that lasts longer than a few weeks.