Loss of Appetite (Anorexia)

Loss of appetite (anorexia) is characterized by a disinclination to eat, due to the absence of hunger or desire for food.

Anorexia is different from anorexia nervosa which is a an eating disorder in people who have low self esteem and fear of gaining weight; due to which they restrict themselves from eating even when they are hungry, or they eat and immediately make themselves vomit.

Causes Of Lost Appetite

Anorexia is not a disease but a symptom caused by other diseases the person may be having. Most people have short bouts of anorexia when they suddenly become ill, but their appetite returns as soon as they recover.

Chronic anorexia lasts for a long period and it is a debilitating condition which results in weight loss, including loss of muscle mass and fat tissue known as cachexia. The reason for chronic anorexia is usually a serious chronic condition such as the following:

  • Diseases such as AIDS, cancers and chronic infections
  • Disorders affecting vital organs such as heart failure, liver or kidney failure
  • Disorders affecting appetite regulating regions of the brain
  • Asthma in children
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Side effect of drugs
  • Depression

Chronic infections and incurable diseases and disorders of the vital organs often result in lost appetite. Children who suffer from frequent episodes of asthma and people with chronic lung disease also experience lack of appetite. Certain endocrine disorders such as Addison’s disease causing adrenal insufficiency result in anorexia. Digoxin used in the treatment of heart disease causes loss of appetite. Some other drugs which have the same side are quinidine fluoxetine and hydralazine. People who are mentally depressed or terminally ill and those near the end of their lives generally display lack of appetite.


The treatment of anorexia depends on its cause. When a person comes with the complaint of chronic loss of appetite, doctors subject the patient to detailed investigations to detect the underlying cause. If the cause of anorexia is known, doctor may treat the underlying disorder as far as possible. If it is an incurable condition, measures to lessen the symptom are tried. The following are some of the measures taken to alleviate anorexia:

  • A diet which includes the foods desired by the patient, offers variety, and allows flexibility in quantity and timings
  • A small serving of alcohol half an hour before meals (optional)
  • Appetite stimulating drugs

Low-doses of corticosteroids such as dronabinol and megestrol are sometimes given. Cyproheptadine is another drug used to promote appetite.

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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