Appetite is a natural desire or need for food. A good appetite is most often a sign of health and well-being. Appetite is a combination of:
Being able to enjoy the taste, sight, and smell of food
Looking forward to sharing the pleasure of a meal with others
A loss of appetite can cause health problems if you stop eating a healthy diet.
What causes a loss of appetite?
Many things can cause a loss of appetite. You may lose your appetite because of:
Problems with teeth or dentures that make it painful or hard to chew
Illness such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or liver disease
A reduced sense of taste or smell
Any unexplained loss of appetite that lasts longer than a week could be a sign of a more serious problem.
What are the symptoms?
Besides not feeling like eating, symptoms may include:
Lack of interest in the things you normally enjoy
Changes in your skin, hair, or nails
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have tests or scans to help diagnose a medical condition that may be causing your symptoms.
How is it treated?
Treatment depends on the cause. For example:
If a medicine seems to be affecting your appetite, your healthcare provider can work with you to find a different medicine or dosage that will treat your medical problem without affecting your appetite.
If you have lost your appetite because of depression, treating the depression should help your appetite improve in a few weeks.
If you have problems with your teeth, your provider may recommend seeing your dentist.
If tests show that you have a vitamin or hormone problem, your provider may recommend a change in your diet, supplements, or treatment for the hormone problem.
If pain is making it hard for you to eat, your provider may prescribe medicine, physical exercise, or relaxation techniques to help you control the pain.
When your loss of appetite is due to a disease such as cancer or its treatment, you may want to ask your provider for a referral to a dietitian. A dietitian can help you find foods that you can eat even if your appetite is poor.
How can I take care of myself?
Think about why you may have less appetite than you used to. Sometimes loneliness affects appetite. It might help to arrange to eat a meal with other people. For example, share meals with friends or eat at your local senior center.
Keep foods in your kitchen that don’t take much time to prepare and can be eaten right out of the refrigerator or easily heated in the microwave.
Avoid cooking strong-smelling foods, like fish or cauliflower, if that seems to affect your appetite.
Eat when you are hungry, which may mean several small meals through the day, rather than 2 or 3 large ones. If you are underweight, you may also need snacks between meals to gain weight.
Make sure every bite counts.
Eat high-protein foods, such as cheese, eggs, fish, meat, and milk.
Include fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet so that you get enough fiber, vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy.
Ask your healthcare provider or dietitian if high-calorie nutrition drinks would be helpful, such as for example, Carnation Instant Breakfast, Ensure, Resource, or Boost. If you have trouble digesting milk and milk products, ask your provider or dietitian which nutrition drinks would be right for you.
Get regular exercise according to your healthcare providerâ€™s recommendations. Exercise can improve a poor appetite.
Weigh yourself every 1 to 2 weeks and write down your weight. Contact your healthcare provider if you have lost weight in the last month without trying to diet.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-06-02 Last reviewed: 2014-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Alibhai SM, Greenwood C, Payette H. An approach to the management of unintentional weight loss in elderly people. CMAJ. 2005 Mar 15;172(6):773-80. Review.
Lankisch P, Gerzmann M, Gerzmann JF, Lehnick D. Unintentional weight loss: diagnosis and prognosis. The first prospective follow-up study from a secondary referral centre. J Intern Med. 2001 Jan;249(1):41-6.