Loss of Appetite

Authored by , Reviewed by Dr Jacqueline Payne on | Certified by The Information Standard

There are numerous possible causes for loss of appetite. If it persists then see your doctor who can try to find the cause in your particular case.

Normally most people have a regular desire to eat food - an 'appetite'. Eating is an essential part of life, giving us the energy and nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. If you lose your appetite, there is usually a reason behind it, and it often has a medical or psychological cause. Most often, having no appetite is a short-term problem. Most of us have experienced this with a flu-like viral illness or tummy bug (gastroenteritis), or in times of extreme stress (such as an exam or a bereavement). Sometimes, however, it can go on for longer. In this case it may signify a more important medical problem.

There are many reasons why appetite may be lost. Some are serious conditions, others are not. Possible causes include:

If a loss of appetite persists, and there is no obvious reason for it, see your GP. As you can see above, there is a huge list of potential causes. Your GP will want to rule out the more serious causes - in particular, cancer.

It is particularly important to see your GP as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms associated with a persisting lack of appetite:

  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Pain in your tummy (abdominal pain).
  • Swelling of your tummy.
  • Night sweats.
  • Feeling sick (nausea).
  • Tiredness.
  • Low mood.
  • Feeling out of breath.

Your GP will be able to narrow down the possible causes by asking you about your symptoms and examining you. He or she will probably suggest some blood tests, which may give clues as to the cause. An ultrasound scan of the tummy may be helpful in some cases, and/or a chest X-ray. Further tests may then be indicated depending on what the likely diagnosis seems to be.

This will entirely depend on the cause which is found. Generally speaking, the most important thing is to establish the cause so that it can be quickly treated if possible. Your appetite keeps you eating, which keeps you healthy and strong. See the separate leaflet called Healthy Eating for more information.

Further reading and references

  • ; NICE Clinical Guideline (2015 - last updated July 2017)

  • ; The Suspected CANcer (SCAN) pathway: protocol for evaluating a new standard of care for patients with non-specific symptoms of cancer. BMJ Open. 2018 Jan 218(1):e018168. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-018168.

  • ; An overview of appetite decline in older people. Nurs Older People. 2015 Jun27(5):29-35. doi: 10.7748/nop.27.5.29.e697.

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