Anorexia is a general loss of appetite or a loss of
interest in food. When some people hear the word “anorexia,” they think of the
eating disorder anorexia
nervosa. But there are differences between the two.
Anorexia nervosa doesn’t cause loss of appetite. People
with anorexia nervosa purposely avoid food to prevent weight gain. People who
suffer from anorexia (loss of appetite) unintentionally lose interest in food.
Loss of appetite is often caused by an underlying medical condition.
Since anorexia is often a symptom of a medical problem, speak
with your doctor if you notice a significant decrease in your appetite. Technically
any medical issue can result in loss of appetite.
Common causes of loss of appetite can include the following:
During episodes of depression, a person may lose interest
in food or forget to eat. This can lead to weight loss and malnourishment. The
actual cause of loss of appetite is not known. Sometimes, people with
depression can overeat.
Advanced cancer can cause loss of appetite, so it’s not
uncommon for people with end-stage cancer to decline food. As the disease
progresses, the body of a person with end-stage cancer begins to conserve
energy. Since their body is unable to use food and fluids properly, loss of
appetite typically occurs as the end of life approaches. If you’re a caregiver,
don’t be overly concerned if a loved one chooses not to eat, or only prefers
liquids such as ice cream and milkshakes.
Side effects caused by some cancer treatments (radiation and chemotherapy) can also
affect appetite. People who receive these treatments may lose their appetite if
they experience nausea, difficulty swallowing, difficulty chewing, and mouth
C is a liver infection that spreads from person to person through contact
with infected blood. This infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus. If left
untreated, it can cause liver damage. Advanced liver damage can cause nausea
and vomiting, which affects appetite. If you experience loss of appetite, your
doctor can order blood work to check for the hepatitis C virus. Other types of
hepatitis can also cause loss of appetite in the same way.
People with kidney failure will
often have a condition called uremia, which means there is excess protein in
the blood. This protein would normally be flushed out in the urine, however,
the damaged kidneys are unable to filter it properly. Uremia can cause people
with kidney failure to feel nauseated, and not want to eat. Sometimes food will
taste different. Some will find that the foods they once enjoyed no longer
appeal to them.
People with heart failure may
also experience loss of appetite. This is because you have less blood flow to
the digestive system, causing problems with digestion. This can make it
uncomfortable and unappealing to eat.
Loss of appetite is also a common symptom of HIV/AIDS. There are
different reasons for loss of appetite with HIV and AIDS. Both can cause
painful sores on the mouth and tongue. Because of pain, some people reduce
their food intake or completely lose the desire to eat.
Nausea caused by AIDS and HIV can also affect appetite. Nausea
can also be a side effect of a medication used to treat HIV and AIDS. Talk to
your doctor if you develop nausea or loss of appetite after beginning
treatment. Your doctor may prescribe a separate medication to help you cope
In addition to other symptoms, some people with Alzheimer’s disease
(AD) also experience loss of appetite. Loss of appetite in people with AD has
several possible explanations. Some people with AD battle depression which
causes them to lose interest in food. This disease can also make it difficult
for people to communicate pain. As a result, those who experience oral pain or
difficulty swallowing may lose interest in food.
Decreased appetite is also common with AD because the
disease damages the hypothalamus, which is the area of the brain that regulates
hunger and appetite. A change in appetite may start to develop years before a
diagnosis, and become more apparent after a diagnosis.
Loss of appetite can also occur if a person with AD isn’t
active or doesn’t burn enough calories throughout the day.
Anorexia or loss of appetite can cause complications such
weight loss and malnutrition.
Although you may not feel hungry or want to eat, it’s still important to try to
maintain a healthy weight and get good nutrition into your body. Here are some
tips to practice throughout the day when your appetite is low:
5-6 small meals a day rather than 3 large meals that may fill you up too
the times during day when you feel most hungry.
whenever you are hungry. Choose snacks that are high in calories and
protein, such as dried
fruits, yogurt, nuts and nut
butters, cheeses, eggs, protein, granola
bars, and pudding.
in pleasant surroundings that make you feel comfortable.
soft foods, like mashed potatoes or smoothies, if your loss of appetite is due
your favorite snacks on hand so you can eat on the go.
spices or sauces to make food more appealing and higher in calories.
liquids between meals so that they don’t fill you up while you are eating.
with a dietitian to create a meal plan that works for you.
The occasional loss of appetite isn’t a cause for
concern. Call you doctor if anorexia causes significant weight loss or if you
have signs of poor nutrition, such as:
- physical weakness
Poor nutrition makes it harder for your body to function
properly. In addition, lack of food can also cause loss of muscle mass.
Since different illnesses can reduce appetite, your
doctor may ask several questions regarding your current health. These can
include questions such as:
- Are you currently taking any
medications for any conditions?
- Have there been recent changes in your
- Is your loss of appetite a new or old
- Are there any events in your life
currently that are upsetting you?
Tests used to diagnose an underlying medical problem may
include an imaging test (X-ray
or MRI) which takes detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Imaging tests
can check for inflammation and malignant cells. Your doctor may also order a
blood test or a urine test to examine your liver and kidney function.
If you show signs of malnutrition, you may
be admitted into the hospital and receive nutrients intravenously.
Overcoming anorexia or loss of appetite often involves
treating the underlying cause. Your doctor may suggest working with a registered
dietitian for advice on meal planning and proper nutrition. You can also talk
to your doctor about taking an oral steroid to help stimulate your appetite.