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Appetite - decreased

A decreased appetite is when your desire to eat is reduced. The medical term for a loss of appetite is anorexia.

Alternative Names

Loss of appetite; Decreased appetite; Anorexia

Considerations

Any illness can reduce appetite. If the illness is treatable, the appetite should return when the condition is cured.

Loss of appetite can cause weight loss .

Causes

A decreased appetite is almost always seen among elderly adults, and no physical cause may be found. But emotions such as sadness, depression, or grief can lead to a loss of appetite.

Cancer can also cause decreased appetite. You may lose weight without trying. Cancers that may cause you to lose your appetite include:

  • Colon cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer

Other causes of decreased appetite include:

  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Dementia
  • Heart failure
  • Hepatitis
  • HIV
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Pregnancy (first trimester)
  • Use of certain medications, including antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, codeine, and morphine
  • Use of street drugs, including amphetamines (speed), cocaine, and heroin

Home Care

People with cancer or a chronic illness need to increase their protein and calorie intake by eating high-calorie, nutritious snacks or several small meals during the day. Liquid protein drinks may be helpful.

Family members should try to supply favorite foods to help stimulate the person's appetite.

Keep a record of what you eat and drink for 24 hours. This is called a diet history.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you are losing a lot of weight without trying.

Seek medical help if decreased appetite occurs along with other signs of depression, drug or alcohol abuse, or an eating disorder.

For loss of appetite caused by taking medications, ask your health care provider about changing the dosage or drug. Do not stop taking medications without first talking to your health care provider.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and will check your height and weight.

The health care provider will ask about diet and medical history. Questions may include:

  • Is the decreased appetite severe or mild?
  • Have you lost any weight? How much?
  • Is the decreased appetite a new symptom?
  • If so, did it start after an upsetting event, such as the death of a family member or friend?
  • What other symptoms are present?

Tests may be done to determine the cause of decreased appetite. These may include imaging tests, such as x-ray or ultrasound. Blood and urine tests may also be ordered. 

In cases of severe malnutrition, nutrients are given through a vein (intravenously). This may require a hospital stay.

References

Mason JB. Nutritional assessment and management of the malnourished patient. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 4.

Mcquaid K. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 134.

Stewart GD, Skipworth RJE, Fearon KCH. The anorexia-cachexia syndrome. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al, eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 106.

Rakel RE, Strauch EM. Care of the dying patient. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DM, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 5.

Updated: 8/17/2014

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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