Is a loss of appetite a symptom of COVID-19?

March 30, 2021

This article has not been updated recently

Data from millions of ZOE COVID Symptom Study app contributors has shown that skipping meals can be a symptom of COVID-19. Here’s how to spot it and what it feels like.

What is a loss of appetite like in COVID-19?

Even though skipping meals is a less well-known symptom, our data shows that one in three people with COVID-19 lose their appetite.  

Skipping meals was first spotted in care homes. Carers noticed their residents were off their food and they also often lost their appetites during their illness. A loss of appetite is a normal part of being unwell and can be caused by feeling too sick or tired to make or eat a meal. 

Having no appetite is always a sign of ill-health and should be looked out for in older relatives or people you are caring for. 

When does a loss of appetite happen in COVID-19?

Losing your appetite is an early sign of COVID-19. For adults over 35, it lasts for an average of four days but can take a week or more to pass. In those younger than 35, it tends to only last two to three days and gets better within a week.

How common is skipping meals in COVID-19?

One in three people infected with COVID-19 lose their appetites enough to skip meals. It’s most common in people over 65 where roughly four in ten people (43%) experience a loss in appetite at some point during their illness.  

A loss of appetite is rarely the only symptom someone has (3% in over 65s and 2% or less in under 65s). 

What other symptoms of COVID-19 are common alongside skipping meals?

A loss of appetite is highly likely to occur alongside fatigue (more than 87% in adults) and headache (more than 70% across all ages). Around half of people with a loss of appetite will also experience fever. Around half of adults reporting skipping meals also had a persistent cough and a third had abdominal pains and diarrhoea.  

Skipping meals can occur alongside a number of different clusters of symptoms. A loss of appetite alongside fever tends to be a sign of a mild case of COVID-19. Whereas, people with more severe cases will have a loss of appetite alongside confusion, or clustered with shortness of breath, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. 

Depending on your age and sex, you should contact your doctor if you have multiple different symptoms of COVID-19 in the first week of being ill.

What should I do if I have no appetite and think it might be COVID-19?

If you find yourself skipping meals because you feel unwell you should consider the following:

Skipping meals for a short period of time because you’re feeling unwell isn’t something to be overly worried about in people under 65. However, a continued loss of appetite in the elderly could be a sign of something wrong and should be raised with their GP or usual healthcare professional. 

It’s not necessary to force yourself to eat if you don’t feel like it but it’s very important to keep drinking liquids to help replace the water lost as your body fights off the infection. 

Stay safe and keep logging.

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