Excessive hunger describes an abnormally strong desire or need to eat. This can be normal or related to an underlying medical condition.
Increased hunger is not considered excessive when related to a recent lack of eating. People who have always had a large appetite are not considered to have excessive hunger either. There are many potential causes of an unexpectedly large appetite.
There are many possible causes for excessive hunger. These include:
Other causes are also possible. Sometimes, no cause can be found.
When a person complains of an excessive amount of hunger, the healthcare provider will want to know:
Other questions may also be asked.
The healthcare provider will first take a medical history and perform a physical exam. This may be all that is needed to determine the cause. In other cases, further testing is needed.
The tests used will depend on the suspected cause. Blood tests are commonly done. For example, a blood glucose level can be used to detect diabetes. A series of blood tests called thyroid function tests can detect hyperthyroidism. A toxicology screen of the blood or urine can detect illegal drug use. An x-ray test called a cranial CT may be done if brain damage is suspected.
Prevention is often not possible. Avoiding the drug can prevent cases due to drug abuse. Taking medications as prescribed and checking blood sugars regularly can prevent some cases due to diabetes.
Some people with excessive hunger may gain weight. Others may lose weight in spite of eating more. This is the case for people with hyperthyroidism. Other long-term effects are related to the cause of the problem. Growth spurts in children and normal and have no long-term effects. Depression may result in an inability to work or interact with others. It sometimes leads people to commit suicide. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause damage to many bodily organs and even death.
Excessive hunger is not contagious and poses no risks to others.
Treatment is directed at the cause. For example, an individual with diabetes may use insulin injections or other medications to control blood sugar levels. A person with hyperthyroidism may be treated with medications, surgery, or radioactive therapy. Someone who abuses drugs may need drug rehabilitation. A person with bulimia or depression may be treated with psychotherapy. Medications such as fluoxetine and sertraline may be used as well.
Side effects depend on the treatments used. For example, medications can cause allergic reactions, stomach upset or headaches. Specific side effects depend on the medications used. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection.
Someone experiencing increased hunger due to pregnancy or a growth spurt needs no further treatment. An individual with diabetes needs lifelong monitoring and treatment. Someone who stops abusing drugs may no longer experience excessive hunger.
Any changes or response to treatment can be reported to the healthcare provider. Other monitoring is related to the cause. For example, someone with diabetes needs to check blood sugars levels every day.
Author:Adam Brochert, MD
Editor:Slon, Stephanie, BA
Reviewer:Melissa Sanders, PharmD
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 1998, Fauci et al.
Rudolph's Fundamentals of Pediatrics, 1998, Rudolph et al.