What Is Increased Appetite?
Increased appetite is when you want to eat much more often or in larger quantities than your body requires. This may or may not result in weight gain.
Your hunger should be relieved when you eat. It is normal to have an increased appetite after physical exertion, but this is generally alleviated after eating. However, a significantly increased appetite over a prolonged period could be a symptom of a serious illness, such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism. If you are experiencing excessive hunger that is ongoing, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Your doctor may refer to this condition as hyperphagia or polyphagia. Treatment for increased appetite will depend on its underlying cause.
Causes of Increased Appetite
You may have an increased appetite after engaging in sports or exercise. However, if it persists, it can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, including:
- stress or anxiety
- premenstrual syndrome (the physical and emotional symptoms that precede menstruation)
- reaction to medications, including corticosteroids, cyproheptadine, and tricyclic antidepressants
- bulimia (a condition that causes people to go on eating binges and then induce vomiting or use laxatives so as not to gain weight)
- hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland)
- Graves disease (an autoimmune disease causing the thyroid to produce too much hormone)
- hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels)
- diabetes (a chronic condition in which the body has trouble regulating blood sugar levels)
Diagnosing Increased Appetite
If you have a persistently increased appetite, especially if it is accompanied by additional symptoms, you should contact your physician.
Your doctor will probably want to perform a thorough physical examination and note your current weight. He or she will likely ask you a series of questions, which may include:
- Have you previously been diagnosed with any chronic disease?
- What prescription or over-the-counter medications or supplements do you take?
- Are you trying to diet?
- Have you gained or lost a substantial amount of weight?
- Did your eating habits change prior to your increased appetite?
- Have you changed your eating habits?
- What is your typical daily diet like?
- Do you also have increased urination?
- Do you feel increased thirst?
- Does your pattern of excessive hunger coincide with your menstrual cycle?
- Do you exercise?
- Have you recently been ill?
- Do you use alcohol or illegal drugs?
- Are you vomiting, either intentionally or unintentionally?
- Are you feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed?
- Do you have any other physical symptoms?
Diagnostic testing for increased appetite may include blood tests and thyroid function testing to measure the level of thyroid hormones in your body.
If no physical cause can be determined, your doctor may recommend a psychological evaluation to learn about and predict your behavior relating to increased appetite.
Treating Increased Appetite
Do not attempt to treat yourself with the use of over-the-counter appetite suppressants without consulting your doctor. Treatment for an excessive appetite will depend on the cause. Any underlying medical conditions will need to be addressed.
Hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar (glucose) level is too low (below 70 mg/dL). This is a medical emergency. If not properly treated, hypoglycemia can lead to loss of consciousness. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you will learn how to control your blood sugar levels, how to recognize the early warning signs of hypoglycemia, and how to take steps to correct the problem quickly.
Conditions such as eating disorders and depression will likely involve psychological counseling, along with a long-term medical treatment plan.
Diseases such as diabetes and disorders such as hyperthyroidism require careful evaluation, monitoring, and individualized treatment.
In some cases, psychological counseling may be required. If your appetite problems are caused by medications, you doctor may be able to change the dosage or try an alternative medication. You should never attempt to change the dosage or stop taking your prescription drugs without the advice of your doctor.