What is Loss of Appetite?
Loss of appetite means we have little or no inclination or need to eat as we normally would. Food does not interest us and the thought of eating may be beyond our capabilities.
You may find that you also have a sudden unexplained weight loss and just not feel hungry.
In medical terms this is anorexia, meaning loss or lack of appetite, not be confused with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. (1)
There are many things that can cause a loss of appetite, from physical to psychological conditions.
Our appetite is controlled by hormone signals from cells in the gastrointestinal area. These coordinate with our brain to tell us when we are hungry and when we are full. When these signals are interrupted for any reason loss of appetite can be the result. (2)
Some of the things which can affect appetite include:
Bacterial or viral infections are renowned for causing fever, aches and pains, yet we often experience a loss of appetite alongside it. This could be down to something like influenza or a common cold.
However, when these infections are treated appetite often returns. (3)
Depression is a psychological disorder which causes negative thoughts and sadness which is overwhelming.
People suffering from depression often experience lack of appetite. (4)
Appetite loss with age is not uncommon, in fact up to 30 percent of older people can experience anorexia with aging.
This can be particularly worrying as weight loss might increase the risk of osteoporosis, falls and muscle wastage. The immune system will also not be as efficient which often means wound healing, immune function and general quality of life can be impaired.
Other factors which can contribute to appetite loss with age are physiology of the body and psychological function.
Older people are more likely to have acute illness, chronic diseases and use medication to alleviate them. Changes in social circumstances like living alone after having lost a loved one or being in a care home can also contribute. (5)
Stress, whether caused by positive or negative things can affect eating habits. About 40 percent of people experiencing stress will have loss of appetite.
Negative factors causing emotional stress could be down to grief, divorce, money worries or loss of your job. Positive factors could be falling in love, getting married or moving to a new home.
Appetite will normally return once the cause of the stress has been removed or treated. (6)
There are many disorders associated with our digestive system, including: celiac disease, crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.
These conditions affect the way we absorb nutrients and how we digest our food. One of the symptoms they also present with can be appetite loss. (7)
The kidneys filter waste products from our blood and maintain the levels of certain chemicals in the body. They also make hormones which help control our blood pressure.
Heart failure is a condition where the heart does not work efficiently and cannot supply enough blood to the body. Whilst a serious medical issue, it does not always translate into the fact your heart is about to stop working. (10)
Some of the factors associated with this condition are depression, reduced cognitive function and insomnia. Often people with this condition will be on medication; All these factors play a role in appetite loss for people with heart failure. (11)
Diseases of the liver may affect the way we taste, particularly in relation to sweet and savory foods. This change in taste can affect the way food is perceived and can result in a loss of appetite. (12)
Liver diseases include hepatitis, non alcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. (13)
An overactive thyroid gland has many effects on our body, one of these is weight loss. In younger adults this can happen even though their appetite is still healthy. However in older adults an overactive thyroid can cause appetite loss. (14)
Dementia is a progressive condition mainly characterized by memory loss and reduction in cognitive function. Whilst there are many types of dementia the most well known is probably alzheimer’s.
Along with the other symptoms we have mentioned, appetite loss is common in people suffering with dementia. (15)
Many cancer patients experience weight loss and weakness, this could be due to a reduced desire to eat food.
Loss of appetite is a direct symptom of the cancer however treatments can also play a part. Many cancer treatments alter the way food smells or tastes and makes it unappetizing.
There are some drugs which can induce appetite loss and these are often used in the treatment of obesity. (18)
Other drugs also instigate side effects which cause loss of appetite, especially those used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can wreak havoc on a woman’s body. It is common during the earlier stages of pregnancy to experience nausea and vomiting, (morning sickness). For some this can continue through the duration of the pregnancy.
Alongside the nausea and sickness, many women also experience a loss of appetite. (21)
Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD)
People with GERD often experience acid reflux and heartburn on a regular basis. This happens when the muscle that opens and closes the stomach does not work efficiently. Food and stomach acid can reenter the oesophagus and cause irritation. (22)
Over a period of time this can lead to a change in sensory perceptions of food such as smell and taste. Consequently food is not as appetising and you are less inclined to eat. (23)
The symptoms which alert you to this condition are a lack of interest in food and no inclination to eat. Food might also make you feel nauseous.
Other symptoms accompanying loss of appetite can alert you to the fact there may be something else wrong.
A sudden unexplained loss of weight or increased digestive issues, such as heartburn, should not be ignored. You may also feel tired, irritable or be down in the dumps.
Changes in bowel habits could indicate a disease of the digestive system. Whereas, fever and a general feeling of being unwell could indicate an infection. (24)
Appetite loss associated with some causes can be short lived and it’s highly likely that your appetite will return without medical intervention. However, if your appetite loss is accompanied by other symptoms and is causing concern you should see a doctor.
Your doctor will take a full medical history and will want to know how long you have been experiencing appetite loss. Other required information includes, what you are eating and whether you have lost any weight.
Try and see if you can recognize any triggers for your loss of appetite and tell the doctor about them.
Following a physical examination, if there is possibility of an underlying cause, further tests may be required. These could include blood tests and imaging screening of the gastrointestinal and digestive system. (25)
What is loss of appetite? Loss of appetite means we have little or no inclination or need to eat as we normally would. Food does not interest us and the thought of eating may be beyond our capabilities.
What causes loss of appetite? There are many things that can reduce your interest in food. Some are short lived and appetite will return quickly, or there might be an underlying cause that requires treatment.
How do doctors test for loss of appetite? Medical history and a physical examination will often enable a doctor to diagnose the cause of appetite loss. On occasion further tests may be required like blood tests or imaging scans.
When should you go to the doctors with loss of appetite? If there are other symptoms accompanying your loss of appetite like fever or unexplained weight loss, see a doctor. You should also seek medical advice if you are concerned about it in any way.
Can you prevent loss of appetite? Dependent on the cause it is unlikely that you can prevent appetite loss. However, trying to eat little and often may help.
What can relieve loss of appetite? Often this symptom will resolve when diagnosed and treated.
Are there any natural remedies for loss of appetite? Ginger can be effective in the treatment of nausea if you are experiencing this as a symptom. (26)
What can help manage loss of appetite? Gentle exercise before a meal might make you feel more inclined to eat. You could also try making foods more interesting by using marinades, herbs and spices. Eating with others can also take your mind off food and mean that you actually eat more. (27)
Loss of appetite leaves us with no inclination or need to eat. It might be accompanied by feelings of nausea or a lack of taste or smell.
There are many things which can cause loss of appetite most of which, once treated, means your appetite should return.
If you have an unexplained weight loss, fever or other symptoms that concern you seek medical help. A timely diagnosis of the cause will ensure the return of your appetite sooner rather than later.