Published 1st September 2022

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

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

What is a loss of appetite like in COVID?

Skipping meals as a symptom of COVID 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. 

Losing your appetite is an early sign of COVID but it usually comes back after a few days.

Early in the pandemic we found that there was a distinct cluster of gastrointestinal COVID symptoms, including headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, sore throat, chest pain, no cough. 

We also discovered that people with more severe COVID  had loss of appetite alongside confusion, or clustered with shortness of breath, diarrhoea and abdominal pain, and were more likely to end up in hospital.

How common is skipping meals in COVID?

Early in the pandemic, loss of appetite was reported by around three in ten adults with COVID, rising to roughly four in ten people over 65. 

That’s now fallen slightly with subsequent variants and vaccination, with just over a quarter of people (25-27%) reporting skipping meals with Delta or Omicron after three doses of the vaccine.

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

It’s vital that people know the current symptoms of COVID now that restrictions have lifted and access to testing has changed.

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. 

Whether you have COVID or any other bug, please be considerate by staying home when you’re ill and wearing a high quality FFP2 or FFP3 mask when you go out, to avoid spreading your germs to others who may be more vulnerable.

Download the ZOE Health Study app to log your symptoms. 

Stay safe and keep logging.

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