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Increased Appetite

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:

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.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Oct 19, 2016: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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