Loss of Appetite

A loss of appetite is a symptom that can have many causes. This occurs when you don’t feel hungry. The medical term for a loss of appetite is anorexia. This is different from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of a loss of appetite will help you feel better.

Overview

What is a loss of appetite?

A loss of appetite occurs when you don’t feel hungry or have the desire to eat food. This could cause you to:

  • Feel full.
  • Not enjoy the taste, sight or smell of food (food aversion).
  • Not want to have meals with others.

There are several possible causes for a loss of appetite. It can happen suddenly or gradually over a long period of time. A loss of appetite is usually a sign of concern if it lasts for longer than a week.

A loss of appetite can come with additional symptoms like:

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What’s the difference between a loss of appetite and anorexia?

The medical term for a loss of appetite is anorexia. When you have a loss of appetite, you don’t feel hungry. Anorexia isn’t the same as the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. A person diagnosed with anorexia nervosa may feel hungry but restricts food intake. When you have a loss of appetite (anorexia), you don’t feel the need to eat food because you’re not experiencing the feeling of hunger.

What are the signs of a loss of appetite?

Signs that you have a loss of appetite could include:

  • Having little to no interest in food.
  • Not eating your favorite foods.
  • Missing meals.
  • Changes to your weight.
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Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of a loss of appetite?

There are several possible causes of a loss of appetite. The most common causes are:

  • Physical changes to your body.
  • Emotional changes to your mental health.
  • An underlying health condition.
  • A side effect of a medication.

Physical causes of a loss of appetite

Changes to your body can affect your ability to feel hunger and could cause a loss of appetite. These causes could include:

  • Pain.
  • Dehydration.
  • Dental problems or tooth pain.
  • An injury.
  • A loss or reduction of taste or smell.
  • Recovering from surgery.

Emotional and psychological causes for a loss of appetite

Your emotions play a role in your appetite and your ability to desire food. Emotional causes of a loss of appetite could include:

Underlying health conditions that cause a loss of appetite

An underlying condition could change your appetite. Some of the common conditions that cause a loss of appetite include but aren’t limited to:

Medications that cause a loss of appetite

A loss of appetite could be the result of medications or supplements you take to treat an underlying health condition. Common medications that have a side effect of a loss of appetite include but aren’t limited to:

Care and Treatment

How is a loss of appetite treated?

The treatment for a loss of appetite depends on what’s causing it. Your healthcare provider may run some diagnostic blood or imaging tests to learn more about the causes of your symptoms to help treat them. Treatment could include:

  • Eating small meals regularly throughout the day.
  • Managing any illnesses, infections or underlying conditions.
  • Taking medications to stimulate your appetite like low-dose corticosteroids, cyproheptadine, megestrol and dronabinol.
  • Receiving IV nutrients which are liquid vitamins and minerals that you receive through a needle into your vein.
  • Talking with a mental health specialist about your eating habits if they’re irregular.
  • Changing the dosage or type of medication you take. Your provider will make this change for you.
  • Meeting with a dietitian to help you manage your eating habits.
  • Taking vitamins or supplements under your provider’s recommendations.
  • Visiting a dentist if you have tooth pain or dental problems.

When the underlying cause of a loss of appetite receives treatment or resolves, your appetite should return to normal. If your appetite doesn’t return to normal after you recover from an illness, injury or infection, contact your healthcare provider.

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What can I do at home to treat a loss of appetite?

You can treat a loss of appetite at home by:

  • Eating regular meals: These meals can be smaller than normal. Try to eat small meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, even if you’re not hungry.
  • Consume liquid meals: If you’re not feeling well, consuming your daily amount of calories via a liquid meal may be easier to keep down. Choose liquid meals like soup broths, fruit juices or sports drinks with electrolytes. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for a liquid meal.
  • Eating bland foods: Bland foods are usually soft and low in fiber. They don’t include spicy or fried foods. Bland foods include dairy products, unseasoned meat, vegetables or potatoes, breads and crackers. These types of foods won’t irritate your stomach.
  • Choose foods high in protein, vitamins and minerals: Foods high in protein, vitamins and minerals can help replace any nutrients that you’re missing quickly.
  • Schedule meals with family or friends: Having a support system during meals can help encourage you to eat the nutrients your body needs.

What are the side effects of a loss of appetite?

A loss of appetite could cause malnutrition and weight loss. If a loss of appetite persists without treatment, it can cause serious health problems. You need to eat food or ingest calories regularly to stay alive. A loss of caloric intake can cause your body systems to weaken and not work as they should, which can be life-threatening.

How can a loss of appetite be prevented?

Since there are many possible causes of a loss of appetite, it can be difficult to prevent. To reduce your risk of losing your appetite, you can:

  • Manage any underlying conditions.
  • Ask your provider about the side effects of any medications you need to take.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Get regular, light exercise.

When to Call the Doctor

When should a loss of appetite be treated by a healthcare provider?

Visit your healthcare provider if your loss of appetite causes you to:

  • Have the same symptom for more than one week.
  • Suddenly lose weight.
  • Feel additional symptoms like fatigue, weakness, nausea, a rapid heart rate and irritability.

A loss of appetite can be serious if it persists and doesn’t receive treatment. A sudden, unexplained loss of appetite can be a sign for your healthcare provider that something is wrong. Make sure you contact your provider if you don’t have an appetite.

Additional Common Questions

Can CBD cause a loss of appetite?

Yes, a side effect of CBD is a loss of appetite. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical from the sativa plant. This is also known as cannabis or marijuana. CBD doesn’t contain THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the chemical component in marijuana that causes a high or euphoric feeling.

Is loss of appetite a sign of pregnancy?

It’s common for pregnant people to have a loss of appetite during the first trimester of pregnancy. During the first trimester, your body is going through several changes to help the fetus grow. As a result, what you eat, when you eat and how much you want to eat can change. You may have nausea or vomiting (morning sickness) that can affect your desire to eat. You might not feel hungry for some of your favorite foods or have an aversion, which is an extreme dislike for certain foods that can make you nauseous if you taste or smell them. These changes to your body are common and normal. If your loss of appetite prevents you from eating or consuming the nutrients you and the fetus need to stay healthy, contact your healthcare provider.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A loss of appetite is usually a temporary symptom. Once you and your healthcare provider uncover the cause of your decreased appetite, you’ll feel better and the symptom will go away. Your body is constantly changing as you get older, so some foods that you used to love might not be your favorite today or tomorrow. If you experience a sudden loss of appetite, changes to your mood or weight, don’t delay and contact your healthcare provider. The sudden onset of symptoms can be a sign of an underlying condition that needs treatment.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/03/2022.

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