What causes excessive hunger?
Excessive hunger is the need for increased food intake above your usual caloric needs. It may be caused by disorders in the systems that regulate appetite and blood sugar or by conditions such as pregnancy.
Excessive hunger can also be attributed to endocrine conditions, hypoglycemia, or psychological factors.
Hormonal/endocrine causes of excessive hunger
Excessive hunger may be caused by hormonal or endocrine conditions including:
- Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
- Graves’ disease (type of hyperthyroidism resulting in excessive thyroid hormone production)
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Emotional causes of excessive hunger
Excessive hunger can also be caused by emotional causes including:
Other causes of excessive hunger
Excessive hunger can have other causes including the use of certain drugs or medications (including antianxiety medications, antidepressants, and steroids).
Serious or life-threatening causes of excessive hunger
In some cases, excessive hunger may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Questions for diagnosing the cause of excessive hunger
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner may ask you several questions related to your excessive hunger including:
- How long have you felt the symptoms of excessive hunger?
- Are there certain times in the day when you are hungrier than others?
- Do you have diabetes? Have you had your blood sugar tested?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- Are you depressed or anxious? Have you recently experienced a job loss, new job, move, death in the family, or other life change?
- What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of excessive hunger?
Because excessive hunger can be caused by serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Complications of bulimia (which can lead to malnutrition and erosion of the esophagus and stomach)
- Complications of hyperthyroidism such as hypothyroidism, thyroid storm, fatigue, weight gain, and congestive heart failure
- Diabetic coma
Appetite - increased. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003134.htm. Accessed May 25, 2011.
Hypoglycemia. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000386.htm. Accessed May 25, 2011
What is excessive hunger?
Hunger and appetite are regulated by complex interactions among our endocrine, digestive, and neurologic systems, each of which sends chemical signals to the brain to tell it when you are hungry and full.
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What other symptoms might occur with excessive hunger?
Excessive hunger may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.