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Decreased Appetite - Symptom Evaluation

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A reduced appetite deprives an individual of essential nutrients and results in weight loss.

A decreased appetite, or anorexia as it is called, is a condition where a person does not feel like eating a variety of foods. Loss of appetite could accompany any illness, right from viral fever to cancers. Reduced appetite results in weight loss. It also results in lack of essential vitamins and other nutrients. The appetite usually comes back to normal once the person recovers from the illness.

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In some cases, the cause of reduced appetite is obvious, for example, an infection or a disease. Medications can also reduce appetite; hence, the medications that the person takes should be reviewed. In cases where the cause is not obvious and the loss of appetite is persistent and accompanied by weight loss, a complete examination and a battery of tests may be needed to rule out any serious cause like cancer.

In order to tide over the period of decreased appetite, the person is advised to eat nutritious snacks, or any of their favorite food. Protein drinks help to maintain the daily nutritional intake. Adding a multivitamin may also be helpful in improving appetite and providing the daily allowance of vitamins. Patients are advised to eat less per meal and drink plenty of water.

Conditions that could result in a decreased appetite include:

Infections: Infections often reduce appetite. The infection may vary from a mild flu to a more serious infection like viral hepatitis that affects the liver, pneumonia or tuberculosis that affects the lungs, pyelonephritis that affects the kidneys or HIV that affects multiple organs.

Chronic Conditions: Diseases that affect an individual over a long time can reduce appetite. These include chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive lung disease or COPD and heart failure. Diseases that affect the digestive tract including Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and colitis can also reduce appetite.

Cancers: Cancers are often associated with severe weight loss. Cancers especially those affecting the stomach, colon, pancreas and ovaries can result in decreased appetite. Treatment for cancer like chemotherapy and radiation also results in decreased appetite.

Endocrine diseases: Conditions that affect hormone-secreting glands result in decreased appetite. These include Addison’s disease which affects the adrenal glands, panhypopituitarism which affects the pituitary gland (a small gland situated in the head region) and hypothyroidism (which affects the thyroid gland).

Medications: Nearly all medications can decrease appetite. Prominent among these are digitalis, quinine, metronidazole and chemotherapy medications.

First trimester of pregnancy: The first trimester of pregnancy is associated with nausea and vomiting, thus resulting in a decreased appetite. Women may actually lose some weight in the first trimester due to loss of appetite and vomiting.

Mental health issues: Stress affects the appetite in both ways. It sometimes decreases appetite, whereas sometimes the person ends up eating more. Depression can also decrease appetite. Anorexia nervosa is a condition that affects some women. Women are obsessed with maintaining a very thin figure, and for this purpose, often starve themselves. Anorexia nervosa could lead to severe health problems like heart problems, thinning of bones and damage to kidneys.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which doctor should I visit in case I have a reduced appetite?

You should visit your general practitioner in case you are suffering from a reduced appetite. He may treat any obvious illness if it is mild. He may also prescribe you a multivitamin. In case he feels that there could be a serious reason for the decrease in appetite, he may refer you to a specialist.

2. Can diet be altered to increase appetite?

Appetite can be increased by eating your favorite food. In such cases, even junk food may be permissible over short durations. Adding protein supplements to drinks and taking small amounts of food each time can help to maintain the nutritional intake. You should also drink a lot of water.

3. Are there any medications that reduce appetite?

Medications that are used in the treatment of obesity bring about their action by reducing appetite. However, some of these drugs like sibutramine, fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine have been banned due to their ability to cause serious side effects.
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