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Loss of appetite, or not feeling hungry, is a common side effect of many diseases and their treatments. Appetite loss is often related to nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy and other medicines. Certain medicines can also change the way food tastes or smells. Lower appetite may also be due to fatigue, low energy, fever, or just not feeling well.
Appetite loss during illness is often temporary. However, in some cases, decreased appetite can lead to weight loss, poor nutrition, and other health problems. A dietitian can help you with nutrition strategies. In some cases, health care providers may prescribe medicine to help with appetite. If your child cannot eat enough, nutrition may be given through an IV or feeding tube.
There are many reasons people lose their appetite and have trouble eating during disease treatment. Food may seem less appealing, eating may be more difficult, or they may not feel hungry. Normal eating habits can also be affected by schedule changes or being in the hospital. Often, decreased appetite is due to a combination of factors.
Causes of appetite loss during cancer include:
Mealtime struggles are common for many families. When a child has is sick, appetite and food concerns can be especially hard. Children may not feel hungry. Even their favorite foods may not interest them. A picky or stubborn eater might become even more so. Medical needs and routine changes can make nutrition challenges worse. This can cause extra stress and worry.
It is important to talk about nutrition and weight concerns with your care team. The care team can make suggestions based on your child’s medical needs and treatment schedule. They can also tell you when more intensive support is needed.
Loss of appetite and eating less food can cause weight loss. In children, this may be a failure to gain weight during periods of growth. Some weight loss may be normal, especially with certain medications, surgery, or illness. Too much weight loss can be very serious and lead to other health problems.
Your health care team will look at your child’s weight loss based on:
Families should be aware of potential problems that may occur with poor nutrition and weight loss. These include fatigue, weakness, and increased risk for falls. Children who lose a lot of weight and have poor nutrition may also be at higher risk for pressure sores. Not having enough essential nutrients can sometimes lead to confusion and changes in mood or behavior. It can also cause problems with heart, kidney, or liver function. Over time, a lack of vitamins and minerals from long-term poor nutrition can put a person at higher risk for complications from treatment.
Good nutrition and getting enough calories are important to encourage normal growth, support daily activities, and prevent medical problems. Depending on your child’s needs, the care team may recommend different strategies. Ways to help prevent weight loss during treatment include:
Each patient is different, and families should discuss options with their doctor and work with their care teams to manage appetite, nutrition, and weight loss.
Good nutrition and healthy eating can be a struggle for families when life is normal. If your child has a serious illness, this can be even more challenging. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for each child. Some general tips to help with loss of appetite are:
Find small ways to encourage healthy habits
Plan snacks and meals
Work with your care team to find eating strategies for healthy eating with specific symptoms. These strategies can help with nausea, mouth sores, dry mouth, constipation, or diarrhea.
Reviewed: September 2022