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Increased Appetite / Polyphagia / Hyperphagia – Symptom Evaluation

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An increase in appetite is seen in conditions like bulimia, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and worm infestation.

Do you find that you frequently look for food in the fridge or eating excessively? You could be suffering from a condition called polyphagia or hyperphagia. An increase in appetite may be a normal feature seen in certain stages of life. For example, a growing adolescent eats extra. A pregnant woman has increased appetite. A strenuous exercise schedule increases appetite. A person recovering from an illness may also feel the desire to eat.

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Sometimes, an increase in appetite may reflect an underlying illness that needs to be treated. Hence, it is important to evaluate a case of excessive increase in appetite at the earliest.

Some conditions that could cause an increase in appetite are:

Bulimia: Bulimia nervosa is a condition where a person has episodes of loss of control of eating and ends up eating excessively for a particular period of time. These episodes are then followed by compensatory behaviors like vomiting, laxative use, fasting or the use of medications to lose weight.

Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes mellitus in adults is often diagnosed based on three major symptoms: polyuria or increase in urination, polyphagia or increased eating and polydipsia or an increase in thirst. In diabetes, insulin is either less or the cells of the body are resistant to insulin. Thus, glucose is unable to enter the cells and signals are sent to the brain indicating hunger. This leads to excessive eating or polyphagia.

Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels also make the patient hungry. This is to stimulate the person to eat more, so that the blood sugar levels are restored. Other symptoms of hypoglycemia include nervousness, dizziness, sweating, shakiness and weakness. Convulsions and coma may occur during the later stages.

Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease: Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease are conditions where there is an increase in thyroid hormone levels in the blood. The thyroid hormone increases the rate of metabolism, thus making a person hungry faster. This results in an increased appetite. Since the calories are burnt at a faster rate, the patients do not put on weight, but on the contrary lose weight.

Worm Infestation: Infestation with worms in the intestines of especially children results in increased hunger. Here again, the child does not put on weight. The patient may suffer from abdominal pain due to the infestation.

Premenstrual Syndrome: In premenstrual syndrome, which is the time just before a menstrual period, a woman often experiences an increased appetite especially for high fat and high sugar food. The increase in appetite is possibly triggered by the hormonal changes before menstruation.

Mood Disorders: Mood disorders like manic psychosis and bipolar disorders can increase appetite. Anxiety is also associated with increased eating.

Drug-induced: Certain drugs can increase appetite and consequently food intake. These include corticosteroids, cyproheptadine, tricyclic antidepressants as well as marijuana.

Brain Disorders: Kleine-Levin Syndrome is a rare brain disorder where the patient experiences episodes of excessive sleeping and eating. The condition probably affects the hypothalamus, the center in the brain that controls sleep and eating. Rare genetic disorders like Prader-Willi Syndrome and Bardet Biedl Syndrome also result in excessive eating. However, these conditions are very rare and other features associated with these conditions help to diagnose them.

FAQs

1. Which doctor should I visit in case I suffer from an increase in appetite?

You should visit your general practitioner or family doctor, who on the basis of several questions, will try to pinpoint if the increase in appetite is due to any abnormality. He may order specific tests and then refer you to a specialist.

2. How does a doctor diagnose what is the cause of increase in appetite?

A doctor will find out if the increase in appetite is associated with other features and try to pinpoint the cause, for example increased thirst and urination (as seen in diabetes), or tremors as seen in hyperthyroidism. Tests like blood glucose, thyroid function tests or stool test for suspected worms will be ordered based on the underlying symptoms. Treatment of the underlying disorder usually controls the increased appetite.

3. Does an increase in appetite result in weight gain?

In some cases like Kleine-Levin Syndrome, the increase in appetite results in weight gain. In other cases, where the metabolic rate is also increased like hyperthyroidism, the weight may not be changed and in fact may decrease despite the increase in appetite.
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