What Is Anorexia?
is the abnormal loss of appetite for food. It can be a symptom of diseases such
as cancer, AIDS, and some neurological conditions. Without treatment, anorexia and
malnutrition can hinder the treatment of underlying conditions and lead to serious
(Excessive weight loss caused by obsessive worry
about body weight is called anorexia nervosa.)
Types of Anorexia
Anorexia and Cancer
Anorexia affects 15 to 25
percent of cancer patients (National
Cancer Institute, 2011). Anorexia is especially prevalent in the advanced
stages of metastatic cancer. Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation
therapy, and other medications often worsen anorexia. These therapies can cause
nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, and mouth sores, which may decrease a patient’s
desire to eat.
Cancer surgeries can also
lead to anorexia. In cases where the cancer is affecting internal organs,
surgeons may have to operate on areas of the digestive system. Patients may
develop anorexia if there is significant damage to digestive organs during
Cancer patients commonly
suffer from pain and depression. These are also causes of anorexia (Florida Cancer
Anorexia and Alzheimer’s Disease
As Alzheimer’s disease
progresses, a loss of appetite often becomes apparent. The primary caregiver
may notice that the patient does not eat as much or refuses to eat at all. Possible
causes of a poor appetite include:
- inability to
- poorly fitting
- lack of physical
- diminished sense
of smell and taste (Alzheimer’s
Anorexia and Parkinson’s Disease
Patients suffering from
Parkinson’s disease may develop anorexia. Some patients experience severe
depression, which often interferes with the maintenance of a healthy appetite.
Anorexia is also a side
effect of some conventional medications used to treat Parkinson’s (Parkinson’s
Disease Foundation, 2007). Levodopa, dopamine, and other medications may
also cause nausea, which can further limit the desire to eat.
Anorexia is linked to the development a
progressive wasting syndrome called cachexia. Cachexia causes weakness and a
drastic loss of body mass, fat, and muscle tissue. Twenty to 40 percent of
cancer patients die from cachexia (National
Cancer Institute, 2011).
Cancer patients suffering
from anorexia, weakness, and a significant decrease in body weight should
consult a physician immediately.
Protein-Calorie Malnutrition (PCM)
Protein supplies the building
blocks for muscle and many other tissues, while calories provide energy.
Patients who suffer from anorexia are unable to consume enough protein and
calories to meet their bodies’ requirements. These patients will develop a
specific form of malnutrition called protein-calorie malnutrition, or PCM.
Untreated PCM can be fatal.
Notify a medical professional if you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing
How Is Anorexia Treated?
A doctor will often attempt
to treat the condition that is causing the anorexia. He or she will focus on healing
mouth sores or relieving pain, for example. Alleviating depression can also
help improve appetite.
A doctor may also reduce or
adjust medications that might interfere with a patient’s appetite. And medications
that either stimulate appetite or help food move through the intestines may
also be prescribed.
In severe cases, a
nasogastric tube may be required. This tube passes through the nose and into
the stomach. The tube allows medical staff to deliver food directly to the
patient’s digestive tract.
A doctor may also refer a
patient to a registered dietician, who will provide advice on meal planning and
scheduling. A dietician can make sure the patient is receiving the necessary
Most home care options for
the treatment of anorexia revolve around setting a strict eating schedule (Florida Cancer
Specialists, 2013). Recommended tactics include:
- Eat more frequently. Schedule five or six small
meals a day.
- Set times of the day when you are normally
hungry. Eat at those times even if you do not feel particularly hungry.
- Eat healthy high-calorie foods.
- Eat protein-rich foods.
- Drink nutritious fluids (such as milk or juice)
between meals instead of during meals. Drinking too much during a meal can
make you feel full too quickly.
- Ask a family member or caregiver to cook for you
and help you with grocery shopping.
- Take a 15- or 20-minute walk about an hour
before eating. Light exercise helps stimulate appetite. (Always consult
your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.)
For caregivers of Alzheimer’s
patients, recommended tactics include (Alzheimer’s Association):
- Avoid distractions, such as the television,
while serving meals.
- Keep the table simple. Place only the food and
utensils on the table.
- Make sure the food is at the right temperature.
- Serve only one or two dishes at a time.
- Allow the patient ample time to eat.
- Family members or caregivers should eat at the
same time as the patient.