What causes increased appetite? 19 possible conditions
If you want to eat more often or in larger quantities than you’re used to, your appetite has increased. If you eat more than your body requires, it leads to weight gain. Read more
If you want to eat more often or in larger quantities than you’re used to, your appetite has increased. If you eat more than your body requires, it leads to weight gain.
It’s normal to have an increased appetite after physical exertion or some other activities. But if your appetite is significantly increased over a prolonged period of time, it could be a symptom of a serious illness, such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism.
Mental health conditions, such as depression and stress, can also lead to appetite changes and overeating. If you’re experiencing excessive ongoing hunger, make an appointment with your doctor.
Your doctor may refer to your increased appetite as hyperphagia or polyphagia. Your treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your condition.
Causes of increased appetite
You may have an increased appetite after engaging in sports or other exercise. If it persists, it might be a symptom of an underlying health condition or other issue. For example, increased appetite can result from:
- premenstrual syndrome, or the physical and emotional symptoms that precede menstruation
- reactions to certain medications, such as corticosteroids, cyproheptadine, and tricyclic antidepressants
- bulimia, an eating disorder in which you binge eat and then induce vomiting or use laxatives to avoid gaining weight
- hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid gland
- Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease in which your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormones
- hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar
- diabetes, a chronic condition in which your body has trouble regulating blood sugar levels
People who have used cannabis (marijuana) regularly and stop taking it may experience increased appetite as a withdrawal syndrome.
Diagnosing the cause of your increased appetite
If your appetite has significantly and persistently increased, contact your doctor. It’s particularly important to contact them if changes in your appetite are accompanied by other symptoms.
Your doctor will probably want to perform a thorough physical examination and note your current weight. They will likely ask you a series of questions, such as:
- 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?
- What is your typical daily diet like?
- What is your typical exercise routine like?
- Have you previously been diagnosed with any chronic diseases?
- What prescription or over-the-counter medications or supplements do you take?
- Does your pattern of excessive hunger coincide with your menstrual cycle?
- Have you also noticed increased urination?
- Have you felt more thirsty than normal?
- Have you been regularly vomiting, either intentionally or unintentionally?
- Are you feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed?
- Do you use alcohol or illegal drugs?
- Do you have any other physical symptoms?
- Have you recently been ill?
Depending on your symptoms and medical history, they may order one or more diagnostic tests. For example, they may order blood tests and thyroid function testing to measure the level of thyroid hormones in your body.
If they can’t find a physical cause for your increased appetite, your doctor may recommend a psychological evaluation with a mental health professional.
Treating the cause of your increased appetite
Don’t attempt to treat changes in your appetite using over-the-counter appetite suppressants without talking to your doctor first. Their recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of your increased appetite. If they diagnose you with an underlying medical conditions, they can help you learn how to treat and manage it.
If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor or dietitian can help you learn how to control your blood sugar levels. They can also instruct you how to recognize the early warning signs of low blood sugar, and how to take steps to correct the problem quickly.
Low blood sugar is also known as hypoglycemia and can be considered a medical emergency. If not properly treated, it can lead to loss of consciousness or even death.
If your appetite problems are caused by medications, your doctor may recommend alternative drugs or adjust your dosage. Never attempt to stop taking prescription medication or change your dosage without talking to your doctor first.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend psychological counseling. For example, an eating disorder, depression, or other mental health conditions usually include psychological counseling as part of the treatment.
- Gorelick, D. A., Levin, K. H., Copersino, M. L., Heishman, S. J., Liu, F., Boggs, D. L., & Kelly, D. L. (2012). Diagnostic criteria for cannabis withdrawal syndrome. Drug and alcohol dependence, 123(1), 141-147. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3311695/
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 31). Diabetes. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/basics/definition/con-20033091
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, October 28). Hypothyroidism (overactive thyroid). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyperthyroidism/basics/definition/con-20020986
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, July 7). Depression (major depressive disorder). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/definition/con-20032977
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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