Appetite - decreased

Family Medicine

LLUMC’s primary care physicians provide comprehensive patient-centered medical care for individuals and families.

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Appetite is the desire to eat. A decreased appetite is when you have a reduced desire to eat. This occurs despite the body's basic caloric (energy) needs.

Alternative Names

Loss of appetite; Decreased appetite


Any illness can affect a previously hearty appetite. If the illness is treatable, the appetite should return when the condition is cured.

Loss of appetite can cause unintentional weight loss.

Depression in the elderly is a common cause of weight loss that is not explained by other factors.


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Cancer
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Emotional upset, nervousness, loneliness, boredom, tension, anxiety, loss, and depression
  • HIV
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Infections
  • Medications and street drugs
    • Amphetamines
    • Antibiotics
    • Chemotherapy drugs
    • Codeine
    • Cough and cold medications
    • Digitalis
    • Demerol
    • Morphine
    • Sympathomimetics, including ephedrine
  • Pregnancy (first trimester)

Home Care

Increase 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.

If a person with anorexia nervosa consistently exaggerates food intake, someone else should keep strict calorie and nutrient counts.

For loss of appetite caused by taking medications, ask your health care provider about changing the dosage or drug. Never stop taking medications without first talking to your health care provider.

See also: Weight management

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and will check your height and weight. Your diet and medical history will be reviewed. The doctor wll ask questions about your decreased appetite, including:

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

Tests that may be done to determine the cause of a decreased appetite may include:

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

Review Date: 7/22/2008
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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