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Loss Of Appetite: Causes, Associated Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment And Remedies

Loss of appetite is something that occurs when you have a reduced desire to eat. Decreased appetite is medically termed as anorexia, where a wide variety of conditions can cause poor appetite. The wide-spread causes of loss of appetite have been linked to physical as well as mental illnesses [1] .

When an individual develops a loss of appetite, the associated signs such as malnutrition and weight loss also becomes evident [2] . Lack of treatment can result in the conditions elevating into severe health problems, noting that timely treatment is critical.

Causes Of Loss Of Appetite

A decreased appetite can be a result of several reasons. In most cases, one's appetite will return to normal when the cause condition is treated. It can be caused due to fungal, bacterial and viral infections, such as the following [3] :

  • Meningitis
  • Colitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Gastroenteritis
  • An upper respiratory infection
  • A skin infection
  • Acid reflux
  • Food poisoning
  • Constipation
  • Cold
  • Flu
  • Respiratory infections
  • Allergies
  • Digestive issues
  • Hormonal imbalances

Psychological causes: Apart from the above-mentioned reasons, loss of appetite can also be caused due to psychological issues [4] . Various studies have associated loss of appetite with moods in adults. Your appetite can decrease if you are sad, grieving, anxious or depressed. Some studies link stress and boredom to loss of appetite.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa is a major cause of decreased appetite, where the individual affected will check for ways to forcefully lose weight [5] . Individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa are racked with the false assumption that they are overweight or obese, causing them to lose interest in eating food, leading to malnutrition.

Medical conditions: Some medical conditions such as chronic liver disease, kidney failure, heart failure, hepatitis, HIV, dementia and hypothyroidism can also lead to loss of appetite. Apart from these, cancer is also a major cause of decreased appetite, especially if cancer has affected your colon, stomach, pancreas and ovaries [6] [7] .

Certain medications: Some antibiotics, morphine and chemotherapy drugs can cause loss of appetite. Apart from that, illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamine are also responsible [8] .

In addition to all the aforementioned, pregnancy can also cause a loss of appetite during the first trimester. A loss of appetite can also be more common in older adults, due to the constant use of medications and the changes in the body as it ages; which can affect the digestive system, hormones and sense of smell or taste [9] .

Associated Symptoms Of Loss Of Appetite

Alongside a loss of appetite, people may experience the following symptoms [10] :

  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Blood in stools

Diagnosis Of Loss Of Appetite

The doctor will examine the symptoms and analyse the root cause. The doctor may examine a person's abdomen by feeling with their hand for any unusual bloating, lumps, or tenderness, thereby checking for the presence of gastrointestinal disorders.

You may be directed to carry out the following tests [11] :

  • Blood tests
  • A CT scan of your head, chest, abdomen, or pelvis
  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Endoscopy
  • Tests for liver, thyroid, and kidney function
  • An upper GI series, which includes X-rays that examine your oesophagus, stomach, and small intestine

Treatment For Loss Of Appetite

Medical care and attention for loss of appetite will depend on its cause. If the cause is viral or bacterial, there is no need to get any specific treatment as the infection will go away in time and your appetite will be back to normal once your infection is cured [12] .

The doctor may prescribe certain medications to help increase appetite and reduce the symptoms, such as nausea. If depression or anxiety are causing people to experience a loss of appetite, talking therapies and antidepressants are prescribed [11] .

If decreased appetite has resulted in malnutrition, you may be given nutrients through an intravenous line. Loss of appetite caused by medications may be treated by changing your dosage or switching your prescription.

Note: Always consult a doctor before making changes in your routine and medicines.

Complications Of Loss Of Appetite

If left untreated, the condition can give way to the development of the following health issues [13] :

  • Weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Malnutrition
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • A general ill feeling, or malaise

Home Remedies For Loss Of Appetite

If loss of appetite is due to a medical condition such as cancer or chronic illness, it can be difficult to stimulate your appetite. However, in other minor cases, the following can be beneficial [14] [15] :

  • Eat smaller meals
  • Add herbs, spices, or other flavourings
  • Make your meals high in calories and protein
  • Eat food with your friends and family, make it more relaxing and fun
  • Try having liquid foods such as smoothies, protein drinks etc.
View Article References
  1. [1] Li, J., Armstrong, C., & Campbell, W. (2016). Effects of dietary protein source and quantity during weight loss on appetite, energy expenditure, and cardio-metabolic responses. Nutrients, 8(2), 63.
  2. [2] Hintze, L. J., Mahmoodianfard, S., Auguste, C. B., & Doucet, É. (2017). Weight loss and appetite control in women. Current obesity reports, 6(3), 334-351.
  3. [3] Mezoian, T., Belt, E., Garry, J., Hubbard, J., Breen, C. T., Miller, L., ... & Wills, A. M. (2019). Loss of Appetite in ALS is Associated with Weight Loss and Decreased Calorie Consumption Independent of Dysphagia. Muscle & nerve.
  4. [4] Borda, M. G., Castellanos-Perilla, N., & Aarsland, D. (2019). Relationship between loss of appetite and albumin levels in older adults with mild Alzheimer's disease. Revista espanola de geriatria y gerontologia.
  5. [5] Landi, F., Calvani, R., Tosato, M., Martone, A. M., Ortolani, E., Savera, G., ... & Marzetti, E. (2016). Anorexia of aging: risk factors, consequences, and potential treatments. Nutrients, 8(2), 69.
  6. [6] Blauwhoff-Buskermolen, S., Ruijgrok, C., Ostelo, R. W., de Vet, H. C., Verheul, H. M., de van der Schueren, M. A., & Langius, J. A. (2016). The assessment of anorexia in patients with cancer: cut-off values for the FAACT–A/CS and the VAS for appetite. Supportive Care in Cancer, 24(2), 661-666.
  7. [7] Rahman, M. I., Ripa, M., Hossan, M. S., & Rahmatullah, M. (2018). A polyherbal formulation for treatment of anemia, coughs, pain, and loss of appetite. Asian Journal of Pharmacognosy, 2(2), 20-23.
  8. [8] Sanchez, L. A., & Kharbanda, S. (2019). Loss of Appetite and Neutropenia. In Pediatric Immunology (pp. 271-275). Springer, Cham.
  9. [9] Valentova, M., von Haehling, S., Bauditz, J., Doehner, W., Ebner, N., Bekfani, T., ... & Anker, S. D. (2016). Intestinal congestion and right ventricular dysfunction: a link with appetite loss, inflammation, and cachexia in chronic heart failure. European heart journal, 37(21), 1684-1691.
  10. [10] Ozório, G. A., de Almeida, M. M. F. A., Faria, S. D. O., Cardenas, T. D. C., & Waitzberg, D. L. (2019). Appetite Assessment of Hospitalized Cancer Patients in Brazil–A Validation Study. Clinics, 74.
  11. [11] Polidori, D., Sanghvi, A., Seeley, R. J., & Hall, K. D. (2016). How strongly does appetite counter weight loss? Quantification of the feedback control of human energy intake. Obesity, 24(11), 2289-2295.
  12. [12] Mezoian, T., Belt, E., Garry, J., Hubbard, J., Breen, C. T., Miller, L., ... & Wills, A. M. (2019). Loss of Appetite in ALS is Associated with Weight Loss and Decreased Calorie Consumption Independent of Dysphagia. Muscle & nerve.
  13. [13] van Strien, T. (2018). Causes of emotional eating and matched treatment of obesity. Current diabetes reports, 18(6), 35.
  14. [14] Maity, B., Chaudhuri, D., Saha, I., & Sen, M. (2019). Appetite Assessment of the Older Adult Women of Kolkata and Finding its Relationship with Protein-energy Intake and Nutritional Status. Indian Journal of Gerontology, 33(2), 121-129.
  15. [15] Gallagher-Allred, C., & Amenta, M. O. R. (2016). Appetite Stimulants in Terminal Care: Treatment of Anorexia. In Nutrition and Hydration in Hospice Care (pp. 87-98). Routledge.
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