What Causes You to Lose Your Appetite?

Reviewed on 4/15/2021

Loss of appetite can be caused by a variety of conditions. These can include infections, digestive disorders, stress, psychological disorders, cancer, kidney disease, and more.
Loss of appetite can be caused by a variety of conditions. These can include infections, digestive disorders, stress, psychological disorders, cancer, kidney disease, and more.

Many different conditions can cause loss of appetite, which is when a person doesn’t feel hungry, or just doesn’t feel like eating.

The medical term for loss of appetite is anorexia, which is not the same as the eating disorder anorexia nervosa

Some causes of loss of appetite include:

What Are Symptoms of Loss of Appetite?

Loss of appetite is itself a symptom of another condition. Characteristics of a loss of appetite include: 

  • Lack of interest in food 
  • No desire to eat
  • Nausea

Other symptoms that may accompany loss of appetite vary depending on the cause and may include: 

How Is Loss of Appetite Diagnosed?

Loss of appetite is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination. In many cases there is no need for further testing and loss of appetite is short-lived. If loss of appetite is accompanied by certain symptoms of concern, additional testing may be performed to determine the underlying cause. 

Tests to diagnose the cause of loss of appetite may include: 

  • Blood tests
  • Stool studies
  • Endoscopy
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Computed tomography (CT) enterography
  • Magnetic resonance (MR) enterography
  • Gastrointestinal ultrasound
  • Biopsy of intestine
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG
  • Chest X-ray 
  • Echocardiogram (“echo”)
  • Stress test 
  • Cardiac catheterization (“cardiac cath”)
  • Psychological screening

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What Is the Treatment for Loss of Appetite?

Loss of appetite often goes away on its own without treatment, or it may go away when the underlying cause is treated. When treatment is needed, it depends on the cause. 

Treatment for loss of appetite due to infection may include: 

  • Antibiotics, if the infection is bacterial
  • Antivirals, for some viral infections
  • Rest
  • Adequate hydration

Treatment for loss of appetite due to digestive disorders may include: 

  • Diet changes
    • Avoiding gluten
    • Low FODMAP diet
    • Increased fiber intake
    • Avoiding dairy products with lactose
    • Avoiding foods that can cause gas, like legumes (such as beans) and cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli)
    • Avoid foods that make symptoms worse, such as coffee, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, and fatty foods
  • Get regular exercise
  • Symptom-based drug therapy 
  • Cognitive behavior therapy, gut-directed hypnotherapy, mindfulness therapy for patients with mood disorders
  • Lose weight
  • Don’t smoke

Treatment for loss of appetite due to medical conditions may include: 

  • Kidney disease
    • ACE inhibitors
    • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Liver disease
    • Avoid alcohol 
    • Stop taking medications that can harm the liver (never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor)
    • Lose weight
    • Exercise regularly
    • Consume a healthy, balanced diet
    • Antiviral medicines for hepatitis
  • Heart failure
    • Take medicines as directed
    • Watch symptoms closely and weigh yourself daily 
    • Call your doctor if you gain weight suddenly 
    • Limit salt 
    • Don’t smoke
    • Limit alcohol 
    • Get regular exercise
  • Hyperthyroidism
    • Anti-thyroid medicines and/or beta-blockers 
    • Radioactive iodine 
    • Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland (in severe cases)
  • Dementia
    • Usually involves managing symptoms
    • Treatment of memory problems: cholinesterase inhibitors or memantine (Namenda, Ebixa) 
    • Treatment of behavioral symptoms: medications and behavioral therapy 
    • Treatment of depression: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants 
    • Treatment of agitation and aggression: treatment for these symptoms depends upon what triggers them
    • Treatment of sleep problems: medicine, behavior changes, or both
  • Cancer
    • Depends on the type of cancer and stage, and may include:
      • Chemotherapy
      • Radiation therapy
      • Surgery
      • Immunotherapy
      • Targeted therapy
      • Hormone therapy
      • Stem cell transplant

Treatment for loss of appetite due to psychological disorders, such as depression may include: 

  • Antidepressants
  • Counseling (with a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, or social worker)
  • A device that passes magnetic waves or electricity into the brain

Treatment for loss of appetite due to aging depends on the cause and may include: 

  • Water and saliva replacement products for dry mouth
  • Make sure dentures fit properly
  • Treat infections
  • Manage chronic illness, especially nausea and pain
  • Enhance the flavor of food with pepper, herbs, and spices if smell or taste is impaired
  • Use plate sides and non-slip mats for patients with impaired dexterity 
  • Manage depression and dementia 
  • Encourage dining with family and friends and create a pleasant dining environment
  • Ensure adequate physical activity
  • Review a patient’s medication to ensure they are not taking medicines that reduce appetite

Treatment for loss of appetite due to stress usually includes removal of the stressor. 

Treatment for loss of appetite due to pregnancy may include: 

  • Make sure you drink enough liquid
  • Eat several smaller meals
  • Eat lighter foods
  • Avoid strong-smelling foods such as spicy or fatty dishes
  • Make sure foods are at a temperature you prefer, whether cold or hot
  • Take a prenatal vitamin
  • Stand while eating

Treatment for loss of appetite due to medications that decrease appetite includes changing the dosage, regimen, or medication. Never stop taking a prescribed medication or change the dose or regimen without first talking to your doctor.  

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Reviewed on 4/15/2021
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