Appetite loss or anorexia is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. You may eat less than usual, not feel hungry at all, or feel full after eating a small amount.
Appetite loss may lead to serious complications. These include weight loss, not getting the nutrients that the body needs, fatigue and weakness from muscle loss. These issues can slow down recovery and lead to breaks in treatment. It is important to talk with your healthcare team if you lose your appetite. They can help find the cause and make sure you get proper nutrition.
You need to learn how bad (severe) your symptoms are.
How bad is my appetite loss?
Mild: Fatigue, dizziness, dry skin, swelling of legs or arms and hair thinning. Such symptoms will disappear with the normal tactics applied at home. You need not visit a hospital or medical centre. Talking to your doctor can be helpful to some extent, but not required.
Moderate: Decreased intake without significant weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, or low blood pressure may cause health issues. Moderate appetite loss requires medical assistance. You can talk to your doctor to manage the symptoms and underlying causes.
Severe: Frequently skipping meals or refusing to eat, significant weight loss or malnutrition, irritability, sleep problems, irregular heart rhythm, constipation, abdominal pain and fainting, are some symptoms of severe appetite loss. It is an emergency that requires immediate treatment under your Doctor’s supervision.
How to manage mild appetite loss?
- Eat frequently in small meals whenever you are hungry.
- Do not limit your eating portion.
- Determine which times of day you are hungry and eat at those times.
- Eat nutritious snacks that are high in calories and proteins.
- Drink fluids between meals, rather than with meals, which may make you feel full too quickly.
- Drink fluids with additional calories, such as sports drinks with electrolytes.
- Choose nutritious or filling drinks, such as milk or nutritional milkshakes or smoothies.
- Eat in pleasant surroundings and with family or friends.
- Place food on smaller plates rather than larger plates.
- You need not visit a medical facility for mild appetite loss. The myAnkr web portal or the Ankr app can help you manage the condition by tracking your symptoms.
Warning signs/severe symptoms of Anorexia that need immediate medical attention
Seek medical help if you notice any other symptoms, such as:
What causes appetite loss?
Many different things can cause appetite loss in a person with cancer:
- Changes in metabolism due to advanced cancer.
- Stomach cancer may cause irritation or swelling.
- An enlarged spleen or liver pushes on the stomach, creating a feeling of fullness.
- Medications, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other anticancer drugs.
- Radiation therapy or surgery to any part of the gastrointestinal organs, such as the stomach or intestines.
Other side effects of cancer treatment can also cause appetite loss:
- Nausea and Vomiting (Emesis)
- Mucositis (Mouth sore) and mouth pain
- Infections in the mouth
- Dry mouth
- Dysphagia (Painful swallowing)
- Difficulty chewing
- Abnormal taste (Dysgeusia) and smell
- Constipation or diarrhea
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