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What Causes Loss of Appetite? 7 Reasons You’re Less Hungry

A woman turning down food due to loss of appetite.

The body needs food to obtain energy and stay healthy. In healthy individuals, the gut works with the brain to tell a person when to eat and when to stop. So, if you have a loss of appetite and feel less hungry, it means there’s something wrong. Sometimes, the appetite loss is temporary, and your appetite comes back after you recover from an acute illness. However, at other times, the loss of appetite is longer lasting, is accompanied by other symptoms alongside appetite loss, and can indicate a more serious condition that could even be life-threatening. Please continue reading to find out 7 possible causes of loss of appetite.

What causes decreased appetite?


It’s common for older adults to have changes in eating behaviors and appetite loss. This happens due to decreased activity levels and reduced energy needs, changes in taste and smell sensations, problems with the teeth or reduced saliva production which make eating difficult, changes in the digestive system, hormonal changes, health problems such as dementia or depression, and medication side effects. Poor appetite increases the risk of nutritional deficiencies and weight loss in the elderly. Treatment consists of identifying and treating the underlying cause of appetite loss.

Viral and bacterial infections

Stomach bugs, gastroenteritis, and other infections such as the common cold and flu are common causes of loss of appetite. In these instances, the reduced food intake is temporary and lasts while you have an upset stomach. You should start by eating bland foods like bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and crackers while your digestive tract recovers from a stomach bug. Afterward, you can return to eating a normal diet when your appetite returns.

Digestive conditions

Conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract, such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis) and irritable bowel syndrome, can affect a person’s appetite. If you have other symptoms in addition to appetite loss, such as stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea, blood in your stool, or fatigue, you should see your healthcare provider for further workup.

Medical conditions

A reduced appetite can be a symptom of many physical illnesses. Some examples include chronic liver disease, hepatitis, chronic kidney disease, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland with low thyroid hormones), heart failure, HIV, dementia, certain cancers like stomach cancer and pancreatic cancer, and morning sickness in the first trimester in pregnant women. 

Treatment for a chronic illness can help to increase appetite and encourage eating food. Healthcare providers recommend you eat small meals throughout the day, have liquid meals, and increase your protein and calorie intake to offset the appetite decline associated with medical conditions. 

Sometimes, an underlying condition is yet to be diagnosed, and unintentional weight loss is the first sign that something is wrong. It’s important to see a healthcare provider if you lose more than 10 pounds (4.5 kg) without trying because it could be a sign of serious health problems.

Mental health conditions

People suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, stress, grief, and other mental health conditions can lose interest in eating or can overeat. Treatment for mental health conditions can help prevent weight loss or weight gain due to appetite changes. 

Additionally, an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge eating disorder can also lead to a reduced appetite because of the effects of starvation on the brain. It’s important to get medical attention for eating disorders. If left untreated, these disorders can lead to severe malnutrition.

Medication side effects

Certain medications such as antibiotics, stimulants, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and heart medications can decrease appetite as a side effect. Cancer treatments can cause physical symptoms such as nausea, leading to decreased appetite. Anti-nausea medications can help to increase appetite in such cases.

If you suspect a medication is causing loss of appetite, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Your provider may change the dose or type of medication you are taking, give you vitamins and supplements, or prescribe medications to stimulate your appetite. They may also have you meet with a dietician who can recommend changes in eating habits or eating more of certain nutritious foods.

Drug or alcohol use

Prolonged use of drugs and alcohol can affect your appetite and how often you eat. This can be due to the direct effects of drugs on your appetite (for example, stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines cause loss of appetite). Decreased appetite can also be the result of gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and constipation, for example, from opioid drug abuse. Heavy alcohol use can be associated with skipping meals and feeling hungry less often, causing a person to eat less. Getting treatment for substance abuse disorders can help improve appetite and prevent other serious complications from drug or alcohol use.

When to see a doctor for loss of appetite?

You should see a doctor for loss of appetite if it lasts for more than a week, if you have unintended or sudden weight loss, or if you have other symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, fatigue, weakness, fast heart rate, chest pain, or irritability along with appetite loss. 

Your provider will obtain a health history, perform a physical exam, and order blood tests to determine what is causing your loss of appetite. 

Treatment for loss of appetite depends on the cause. For example, if a blood test shows low thyroid hormone, medication can help to correct thyroid hormone levels and treat your loss of appetite.


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