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Symptom Management

Appetite Loss

Patients with life-threatening diseases often lose their appetite and may lose weight. When severe, this is called cachexia or wasting syndrome.

Causes of weight loss (from the disease or treatments) include:

Inadequate intake of nutrients because the patient cannot or does not want to eat
Poor absorption of food that is consumed
Changes in the patient's metabolism

Management of weight loss depends on the patient's goals. It may include:

Eating small, frequent meals
Eating high-calorie, high-protein foods and nutritional supplements
Receiving nutritional counseling
Feeding through artificial means (such as a tube or IV)
Eating and drinking whatever the patient would like
Relieving thirst by sucking on ice chips or a moist cloth

Medication can include:

Corticosteroids, which stimulate appetite but do not usually increase weight
Megestrol acetate, which stimulates appetite and causes slight weight gain
Dronabinol, which prevents nausea and vomiting, and increases appetite, enhances a sense of well-being and causes weight-gain
Cyproheptadine, which mildly enhances appetite, increases food intake and enhances weight gain
Pentoxifylline, which potentially acts to lower levels of a substance (tumor necrosis factor) that contributes to weight loss in cancer patients.


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