What causes poor appetite?
Poor appetite results from a decrease in the desire to eat and is commonly seen in the elderly. It is not known why this occurs but may be due in part to negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression or sadness.
Different types of cancers, including the illness itself and treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, are a common cause of poor appetite. Chronic conditions, such as heart or kidney failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis), may be accompanied by poor appetite due to difficulty breathing, weakness, and general malaise. Poor appetite is commonly a result of narcotic medications, such as codeine or morphine.
Disease causes of poor appetite
Chronic conditions can cause poor appetite including:
- Cancers (ovarian, pancreatic, colon, or stomach, for example)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis)
- Congestive heart failure (deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood)
- Gallbladder disease such as cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)
- Gastrointestinal infections
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Kidney or liver failure
Drug causes of poor appetite
Certain drugs may cause poor appetite including:
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Radiation therapy
Other common causes of poor appetite
Poor appetite can also have other common causes including:
- Aging (elderly adults very often have poor appetite)
- Difficulty swallowing
- First trimester of pregnancy
- Loss of taste or smell
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Negative emotions (anxiety, depression, grief or sadness)
Serious or life-threatening causes of poor appetite
In some cases, poor appetite may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
- Dehydration (loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which can be life threatening when severe and untreated)
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
Questions for diagnosing the cause of poor appetite
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your poor appetite including:
- Do you always feel like your appetite is poor?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- How long have you had a poor appetite?
- What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of poor appetite?
Because poor appetite can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Loss of strength
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Wasting syndrome
Appetite - decreased. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003121.htm. Accessed May 26, 2011.
Caring for the patient with cancer at home: appetite, poor. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/dealingwithsymptomsathome/caring-for-the-patient-with-cancer-at-home-poor-appetite. Accessed May 26, 2011.
What is poor appetite?
Poor appetite is a common symptom of advanced age, cancer (especially of the colon, ovary or pancreas), chronic disease, or medication side effects. The first trimester of pregnancy is commonly associated with poor appetite that may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The medical term for poor appetite is anorexia. P... Read more about poor appetite introduction
What other symptoms might occur with poor appetite?
Poor appetite may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.... Read more about poor appetite symptoms