It’s normal to feel ravenous once in a while. Maybe you’ve had back-to-back meetings all day or just hopped off a plane, ready to eat everything in sight. However, these situations are isolated incidents, so it’s easy to pinpoint the reason. In other cases, excess appetite can be a symptom of another disease. Known as polyphagia or hyperphagia, an extreme desire for food might come and go or last for a long time. Strangely enough, it doesn’t always lead to weight gain.
When appetite shoots up, one of two problems is likely at play: The body is craving more fuel or appetite signals aren’t doing their job. Specific causes will depend on underlying conditions. Can’t figure out why your appetite is out of control? Visit the doctor, but do pay attention to other symptoms. One of the following conditions might be the reason.
In the case of a busy day, skipping meals can cause hypoglycemia or abnormally low blood sugar. Your body will be in dire need of energy! Hunger, nausea, weakness, and headaches are likely. If it happens often, it’s possible to become desensitized to the early warning symptoms. Diabetics who go overboard on disease management are also at risk. Luckily, for the average healthy person, hypoglycemia can be reversed by simply eating carbohydrates. People with diabetes should speak to their doctor about preventing and reversing hypoglycemia.1
Hyperthyroidism, or Graves’ disease, develops when the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. These hormones disrupt satiety signals, leading to enhanced appetite. Treatment typically calls for anti-thyroid drugs and controlling selenium deficiency.2 3
Despite the increased food intake, weight loss persists, so it can be pretty confusing. Additional symptoms include nervousness, rapid heartbeat, heat intolerance, and hand tremors. Graves’ disease affects just 1 in 200 Americans, though it’s 7 to 8 times more likely to affect women than men.4 5
3. Pre-Menstrual Syndrome
Pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a set of symptoms that show up after ovulation and before menstruation. It’s all because of that drastic change in hormones! About 75% women get PMS and the symptoms often get worse in your late 30s and 40s. Appetite changes and food cravings are extremely common. You might also experience sleep issues, fatigue, headache, irritability, and mood swings. If it’s nearing that time of the month, polyphagia is expected. But if it gets worse? Talk to your doctor or obstetrician and gynecologist (OBGYN).6
4. Anxiety, Depression, Or Stress
Emotional eating is very real. Anxiety, depression, and stress can all reduce or promote appetite or change eating habits. Hormonal imbalances are thought to be the reason. For instance, a 2006 study in Nutrition Research found that stress increases the craving for sweets and comfort food. It also promotes fat consumption, posing the risk for weight gain. If anxiety, depression, or stress is the root of polyphagia, emotional well-being is paramount. Consider healthy self-care techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, and exercise.7
Excessive hunger and thirst are related to high blood sugar in type 1 and 2 diabetes. Since insulin isn’t doing its job of helping cells take in glucose, the cells are starved. If you have “juvenile” type 1 diabetes, you’re already familiar with this symptom. But for adults, excess hunger may be a sign of prediabetes, the precursor to type 2 diabetes. Get a blood test done if you’re at risk.8
6. Kleine-Levin Syndrome
Kleine-Levin syndrome is a rare neurological disorder that causes three major symptoms: hyperphagia, hypersexuality, and hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness). It can make a person sleep for 20 hours a day! Episodes come and go and decrease with age. The disorder is also extremely rare, affecting only 1.5 people per 1 million and mostly adolescent males.9 Unsurprisingly, it’s easy to pass it off as “boys being boys.”
Increased appetite is a possible side effect of some drugs. Medications like corticosteroids, cyproheptadine, and tricyclic antidepressants are known for this symptom. If you just started a new medicine, pay attention to the side effects. Your doctor might be able to change your prescription.10
Be aware of how to recognize health issues and visit a doctor on time if the symptoms persist.
|↑1||Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose). American Diabetes Association.|
|↑2||Graves’ disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑3||Winther, Kristian H., Steen Bonnema, and Laszlo Hegedüs. “Is selenium supplementation in autoimmune thyroid diseases justified?.” Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity (2017).|
|↑4||Röjdmark, Sven, Jan Calissendorff, Olle Danielsson, and Kerstin Brismar. “Hunger-satiety signals in patients with Graves’ thyrotoxicosis before, during, and after long-term pharmacological treatment.” Endocrine 27, no. 1 (2005): 55-61.|
|↑5||Graves’ disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institute of Health.|
|↑6||Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). WomensHealth.gov.|
|↑7||Kandiah, Jayanthi, Melissa Yake, James Jones, and Michaela Meyer. “Stress influences appetite and comfort food preferences in college women.” Nutrition Research 26, no. 3 (2006): 118-123.|
|↑8||Prediabetes & Insulin Resistance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑9||Singh, Swarndeep, Saurabh Kumar, Rohit Verma, and Nand Kumar. “Atypical Kleine–Levin syndrome: An elusive entity?.” Journal of family medicine and primary care 6, no. 1 (2017): 161.|
|↑10||Appetite. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|