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Appetite loss: Don’t ignore it

While losing a few pounds because you’re not hungry may not sound like such a bad thing, losing your appetite may be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. Clinically speaking, “appetite loss” is not about trying to cut down on calories. It’s defined as a decreased appetite or lack of appetite despite basic caloric needs.

It’s important to see your doctor if involuntary and unexplained weight loss within one month exceeds 7 percent of your total body weight. For example, if you weigh 125 pounds and lose 10 pounds without trying, that’s a loss of 8 percent of your body weight—and a red flag.

Your doctor will first want to document your appetite loss, including the time when the problem began (was it triggered by a traumatic event, such as a death in the family?) and note any other symptoms you have. He or she may also request diagnostic tests to check the function of your liver, kidneys and thyroid or send you for an upper gastrointestinal series, abdominal ultrasound or other checks.

Loneliness, boredom, depression, acute or chronic infection, cancer or other problems can bring on appetite loss. Some medications, ranging from chemotherapy drugs to antibiotics, can also make your appetite wane. Discuss adjusting the dosage or changing drugs with your doctor.

Once the reason for your appetite loss has been identified, your doctor will advise you about how to entice your taste buds and keep your weight at a healthy level. He or she may suggest that you plan small, frequent meals or protein shakes throughout the day. Frequent snacking can help, too, especially when you choose nutritious but calorie-dense choices, such as nuts or dried fruits.