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Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite can be caused by stress, a stomach bug, or medications, but it may be a sign of something serious, like hypothyroidism, depression, or cancer. Call your doctor if it continues.
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Last updated March 29, 2024

Loss of appetite quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your loss of appetite.

5 most common cause(s)

Loss of appetite quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your loss of appetite.

Take loss of appetite quiz

Eating is one of the most basic, essential human functions—and a constant desire. If you suddenly don’t have an appetite, if you are repulsed by certain foods, or if you’re struggling to finish a meal, it’s a sign that something is wrong, possibly even indicating the presence of anorexia.

The problem could be as simple as a stomach bug that will pass in a day or two. But a lack of appetite for more than a few days can be a sign of something more serious, like a thyroid problem, cancer, or a mental health issue like stress, depression, or anorexia. Certain medications, including antibiotics, can also suppress your appetite.

The treatment of a poor appetite or loss of appetite depends on the cause. Many mental health issues are treated with talk therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications. But treatment varies if your decreased appetite is caused by conditions such as cancer, digestive issues, or thyroid disease.

Pro Tip

Eating is one of the most basic human functions. Therefore, loss of appetite rarely occurs for no reason. Many causes of loss of appetite can be treated, especially if diagnosed early, but prolonged loss of appetite can lead to weight loss and malnutrition, as well as a delay in diagnosis. —Dr. Chandra Manuelpillai

What causes a loss of appetite?

1. Depression


  • Loss of appetite (or overeating, in some cases)
  • Feeling sad, worthless, or hopeless
  • Loss of motivation
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

Depression makes you feel sad, hopeless, discouraged most of the time. You may lose interest or pleasure in activities (like eating) and life in general.

Symptoms vary from person to person and may be mild, moderate, or severe. Depression can interfere with your daily life, work, and relationships. It’s not clear what causes depression, but family history, major life changes or traumas, and certain physical illnesses may play a role.

Treatments for depression include lifestyle changes (better sleep, healthier eating, regular exercise), psychotherapy, and medications like antidepressants.

2. Anxiety


  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea
  • Retching
  • Excessive worrying or a feeling of dread
  • Increased sweating
  • Constipation, diarrhea, or upset stomach
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing

Anxiety can cause digestive symptoms, such as nausea and stomach pain. These can be so uncomfortable that you have no desire to eat. There are many different types of anxiety, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder is symptoms of chronic anxiety that are not necessarily caused by a specific trigger.
  • Panic attacks, in which severe anxiety symptoms come on suddenly, sometimes for no apparent reason. The symptoms of panic attacks (chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations) are often mistaken for a heart attack.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is anxiety caused by a traumatic event. Triggers include physical or emotional abuse, sexual assault, rape, a serious accident, military experience, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD may experience increased irritability, a feeling like they’re always on high alert (hyperarousal), nightmares, intrusive memories about the traumatic event, and trouble sleeping. They may also have substance use issues and are at a higher risk of depression and suicide.
  • A phobia is anxiety caused by a fear of something specific, such as public speaking or leaving your home (agoraphobia).

Just as there are many different forms of anxiety, there are many different types of treatment. Options include behavioral therapy or psychotherapy (such as exposure therapy and counseling), anti-anxiety medications, and lifestyle changes (exercising more, journaling, or meditating).

3. Hypothyroidism


  • Decreased appetite
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Weight gain
  • Leg and face swelling
  • Constipation
  • Brittle hair and nails

Your thyroid gland is located in the back of your neck and produces hormones that affect many functions, including metabolism. Hypothyroidism is an “underactive thyroid,” which means it doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This causes many of your body’s functions to slow down, which can lead to a decreased appetite.

Hypothyroidism can happen because of an autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; certain medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. Usually, older women with a family history of the disease are at the greatest risk of hypothyroidism.

The condition is treated with replacement hormone pills. If untreated, symptoms can worsen and cause very low blood pressure and body temperature and even coma.

4. Cancer


  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained fever
  • Persistent pain with no known cause
  • Various symptoms depending on the type of cancer

Loss of appetite is a very common symptom of cancer. It can occur with any type of cancer, but it’s particularly common if you have cancer of the gastrointestinal tract. Some cancers also release hormones that affect the hunger centers in your brain.

If you develop symptoms, it’s very important to see your doctor right away. If your symptoms are caused by cancer, the earlier you’re diagnosed and treated, the more successful treatment will be.

Although cancer can cause loss of appetite, the treatment of it can also decrease hunger. Many chemotherapy treatments trigger the vomiting centers of the brain or cause damage to your digestive tract, leading to nausea and vomiting. Your oncologist will know which chemotherapy treatments are most likely to cause these symptoms and can prescribe anti-nausea medications.

Pro Tip

There are a few high-risk people to consider when discussing loss of appetite. The first is the elderly. The second group includes those suffering from psychiatric disorders. The third group is those suffering from eating disorders. —Dr. Manuelpillai

5. Morning sickness


  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to certain smells or tastes
  • Fatigue
  • Breast tenderness and enlargement

Pregnant women may get morning sickness, causing nausea and vomiting. This can make eating unappealing, and you may find you’re unable to tolerate certain foods that you usually like.

Despite its name, morning sickness can occur at any time of the day. It tends to develop in the first trimester, but some pregnant women may have it throughout their pregnancy.

You can try to prevent or lessen symptoms by eating bland foods such as crackers throughout the day (particularly when you first wake up) and drinking ginger ale.

Over-the-counter therapies—such as ginger, vitamin B-6 supplements, and doxylamine (Unisom)—can also help soothe your symptoms. Or your doctor may prescribe anti-nausea medications such as ondansetron (Zofran), metoclopramide (Reglan), or phenergan.

6. Infections


  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Unintentional weight loss

Many infections, especially stomach bugs, like rotavirus or norovirus, can make you lose your appetite. These are associated with fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Other infections such as the flu and COVID-19 can also make you lose your appetite, as well as hepatitis and HIV.

Most common stomach bugs and the flu go away on their own, but it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Other possible causes

A number of conditions may also cause loss of appetite, including:

  • Aversions to certain smells, tastes, or sights
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • In older people, medication side effects and changes in metabolism, as well as loss of taste and smell, is a common condition that occurs with age.
  • Medications such as prescription stimulants and illegal drugs like cocaine
  • Celiac disease
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Hyperparathyroidism, which causes the body to make too much parathyroid hormone
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease

Dr. Rx

As we age, our sense of taste and smell decrease, leading to decreased enjoyment of food. It also becomes harder to shop and/or cook for ourselves. Luckily, many of these can be managed by eating food you enjoy and eating smaller, more frequent meals, as well as eating foods that are high in calories and/or nutrient dense. —Dr. Manuelpillai

When to call the doctor

You should see your doctor if you lose your appetite and have the following symptoms for more than 1 to 2 weeks:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fever
  • You haven't been able to eat for more than 48 hours

Should I go to the ER?

Loss of appetite usually isn’t an emergency. However, you should go to the ER if you have loss of appetite and any of these symptoms:

  • Severe malnutrition or dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Heart racing/palpitations
  • Localized numbness or weakness
  • Confusion
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or others


At-home care

  • Exercise can stimulate your appetite.
  • Eat high-calorie and nutrient-dense foods, particularly those with high protein and healthy fats.
  • Add calories to meals by using butter, oil, or condiments such as peanut butter. You can also drink meal replacement beverages.
  • Eat small meals more often—it can be easier to manage smaller portions when you don’t have an appetite. Also, by eating more frequently, you help ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
  • Add herbs or spices to make food more appealing.
  • Drink more water to avoid dehydration.
Hear what 3 others are saying
Once your story receives approval from our editors, it will exist on Buoy as a helpful resource for others who may experience something similar.
The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
my mental state rnPosted January 21, 2022 by K.
whenever it’s a school day, i never have the appetite to eat. when i try eating a banana or yogurt i end up gagging. then at school, at lunch i feel so nauseous and start randomly gagging and feeling extremely anxious. whenever i eat at lunch or during the school day when i’m in school i feel nauseous no matter what. the moment i walk into the lunch room i feel everything rushing to my head and stomach. my mom says it’s my head and i just overthink and i’m dramatic but i honestly don’t think that. i think maybe medically or mentally something isn’t right, she says ‘ur not nauseous, whenever u feel a twitch u automatically think it’s nausea’ which sometimes is the truth but 99% of the time i feel it’s real. whenever i think about food in school i gag. it’s just so hard because nobody knows or believes me. they think i’m overreacting. and this whole thing is affecting my school. i’ve had to skip school because i refuse to go to school because i feel nauseous. but sometimes my parents say ‘there’s an amount of pain u have to push through’ and make me go to school, but they don’t understand what i’m feeling and what my pain is. they think i’m lying to stay home and sit in bed. it’s just not fair. its so hard to go to school. i have to talk myself down and push through the nausea which is incredibly hard. i can’t anymore.
Loss of appetite.Posted January 7, 2022 by k.
For a long time, I was on prednisone, and then methotrexate. Then before finishing both drugs, I had little or appetite. I didn't think much of it, since I was still eating. Not in a healthy way, I do admit. Yet at times, just smelling something, would make my stomach upset. I didn't live on antacids, but kept some nearby. Well the stomach issue continued. Well now according to a CT scan. I have inflammation in the esophagus and the stomach. Just waiting another week to have and endoscopy. Weight loss, of yes. Part I believe was coming off of two aforementioned drugs. Yet the weight continued to go down. Now I live on organic oatmeal/water and organic yogurt, and watermelon.
Mother with dementiaPosted July 13, 2021 by E.
Our mother has dementia and lost her appetite. We kept trying different foods, drinks and nothing worked until a friend suggested mixing cola with ensure or with ice cream to stimulate her appetite and it worked. We gave mom very small amounts on a baby spoon until she started drinking a little more. All the while giving her bits of soft food (meat, potato, greens, etc) since she no longer liked chewing her food. Mom started back to eating three times a day, but less food, but this was very good. We lost mom in April 2021.
Dr. Manuelpillai is a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician. She received her undergraduate degree in Health Science Studies from Quinnipiac University (2002). She then went on to graduated from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Sciences/The Chicago Medical School (2007) where she served on the Executive Student Council, as well as was the alternate delegate to the AMA/ISMS-MSS G...
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