Orexigenic and anabolic agents

Clin Geriatr Med. 2002 Nov;18(4):853-66. doi: 10.1016/s0749-0690(02)00036-8.


Anorexia and weight loss represent a major cause of morbidity and mortality. At present in the United States two effective anorectic agents are commonly used, namely, megestrol acetate and dronabinol. These two agents are compared in Table 1. In persons with a large excess cytokine production. megestrol acetate should be tried at a does of 800 mg per day for no longer than 3 months. Megestrol acetate should be administered with testosterone in men. It should be avoided in persons who are bed-bound because of the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Dronabinol should be used for most anorectic patients. Dronabinol should initially be given in a low dose (2.5 mg) in the evening. The dose should be increased to 5 mg per day if no improvement in appetite is seen after 2 to 4 weeks. Dronabinol can be continued indefinitely. It seems to have a particularly good profile for persons with anorexia who are at the end of life. In persons with depression and anorexia. mirtazapine seems to be the antidepressant of choice. In addition, the use of taste enhancers can be considered in persons who complain that the food does not taste good. The appropriate use of anabolic agents in older persons with weight loss is controversial. Certainly all older men who are losing weight should have bioavailable testosterone measured and, if the testosterone level is low, should receive testosterone replacement therapy. Women who are losing weight may benefit from the use of low-dose testosterone (eg, Estratest). Anabolic agents, such as oxandrolone, should be reserved for those who have profound cachexia. An approach to the management of anorexia and weight loss in older persons is given in Fig. 1. Thomas et al have provided a more complex algorithm the management of weight loss in nursing home residents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Appetite / drug effects*
  • Appetite Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology*
  • Gastric Emptying / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Megestrol Acetate / pharmacology*
  • Weight Loss


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Appetite Stimulants
  • Dronabinol
  • Megestrol Acetate