What to know about polyphagia: Definition, causes, and more

Polyphagia is a medical term describing excessive hunger or appetite. It also leads to a strong drive for overeating. This could lead to a binge eating disorder. Many different health conditions can cause a person to develop polyphagia, but it commonly has links to diabetes.

People with polyphagia may not feel full after eating a large amount of food.

Polyphagia is one of three main signs that may indicate if someone has diabetes. The other two signs include polydipsia, which refers to excessive thirst, and polyuria, which involves frequent and excessive urination.

Diagnosing and treating polyphagia typically depends on the underlying cause. For example, it may involve managing uncontrolled diabetes, if the person has it.

Another name for this condition is hyperphagia.

Read on to learn more about polyphagia, including what can cause it and when people should seek medical help.

Polyphagia describes excessive hunger or increased appetite. It can lead to an extreme drive to consume larger quantities of food than individuals typically would.

For example, it can occur when a person has uncontrolled diabetes. A lot of sugar, or glucose, builds up in the blood, and an individual subsequently passes it in their urine. This can also mean that the person loses energy they would have otherwise received from the sugar. Therefore, someone experiences extreme hunger and eats a lot of food to compensate for the lost sugar.

Polyphagia may have links to polydipsia in a person with diabetes. Polydipsia means drinking excessive amounts of fluid. As the kidneys produce more urine to get rid of the sugar from the blood, the person gets thirsty and needs to drink more water than typical.

There are various conditions that can cause polyphagia.

Polyphagia can present as a symptom of several medical conditions relating to both mental and physical health.

diabetes

There are different types of diabetes, including type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that stops the body from making insulin altogether. Conversely, type 2 diabetes refers to insulin resistance, which means cells in the body do not produce a typical response to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas works harder to make more insulin but then eventually stops.

Insulin is essential for survival because it allows sugar from the blood to enter the body’s cells, which need the substance as an energy source. Without adequate levels of insulin, excess sugar stays in the blood. Over time, this can lead to heart, kidney, and eye disease.

Apart from polyphagia, other symptoms of diabetes include:

Type 1 diabetes may also cause nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains.

Learn more about diabetes.

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia means low blood sugar.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when blood sugar falls below 70 milligrams per deciliter, doctors call it hypoglycemia. Typically, blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day.

People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to have hypoglycemia, but not everyone reacts to low blood sugar in the same way.

It is important to know the signs of hypoglycemia. Without intervention, this event can lead to serious health consequences.

Some symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • fast heartbeat
  • shaking
  • sweating
  • nervousness or anxiety
  • irritability or confusion
  • dizziness
  • hunger

Learn more about how a person can rescue their blood sugar levels.

hyperthyroidism

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland within the neck. It produces thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism. Metabolism refers to how a person converts food and drink into energy. This means it can affect all organs and various processes in the body.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid overproduces hormones, which can cause an atypical response and increased metabolism. Without treatment, it can cause serious health problems, such as:

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include:

  • weight loss despite an increased appetite
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • irritability
  • trouble sleeping
  • fatigue
  • shaky hands, muscle weakness
  • sweating or difficulty tolerating heat
  • frequent bowel movements
  • swelling of the neck, called a goiter

Learn more about the complications of hyperthyroidism.

premenstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) commonly occurs between ovulation and the start of the next menstrual cycle. Symptoms can be severe for some people, but others may experience no or only mild symptoms.

The dramatic fall in estrogen and progesterone following ovulation may cause PMS.

Some symptoms of PMS include:

Learn more about PMS.

binge eating disorder

binge eating can cause a person to eat a large amount of food in a short time, and they may feel unable to control what or how much they eat. Having a binge eating disorder means that a person experiences distress due to binge eating.

Eating excess amounts of food is not necessarily a sign of a disorder. However, if a person binges at least once a week for 3 months and does not feel in control of their eating, they may have binge eating disorder. It is important to speak with a doctor if a person has concerns that they or someone they know may have this condition.

Some symptoms include:

  • eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, such as within 2 hours
  • feeling a lack of control over eating — for example, if a person cannot stop eating or control what or how much they are eating
  • eating more quickly than usual during “a binge episode”
  • eating until uncomfortably full
  • eating large amounts of food even when not hungry
  • eating alone due to embarrassment about the amount of food they consume

Learn more about binge eating disorders.

Some other causes of polyphagia may include:

Polyphagia can indicate an underlying health problem. Therefore, a doctor will check for other symptoms a person may be experiencing and how long they have been experiencing this condition. They may also ask about an individual’s diet.

Doctors may order the following:

Treatment for polyphagia will depend on the underlying cause.

Doctors may prescribe medications and advise on making certain lifestyle changes to help manage physical conditions, such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism.

If a person’s polyphagia is a symptom of a mental health condition, doctors may refer people to a mental health specialist.

If a person has an ongoing or sudden issue with increased appetite, then it is important that they consult a doctor. Regularly feeling extreme hunger may negatively affect someone’s quality of life.

A doctor may determine that the person needs further testing or another type of medical intervention. People experiencing other symptoms, such as excessive thirst and excessive urination, alongside polyphagia, may require testing for diabetes.

A person with polyphagia can experience extreme hunger or increased appetite. They may consume food excessively to compensate.

Polyphagia can be a symptom of diabetes or another health condition. These might include premenstrual syndrome, hyperthyroidism, and mental health issues, among others.

People should seek medical attention if they experience extreme hunger regularly.

Getting help to find the root cause of the issue can help a person find a solution to their issue. Diagnosis and treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

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