Excessive Hunger

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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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.

Excessive hunger is characterized by 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 circumstances such as pregnancy. Excessive hunger can also be attributed to endocrine conditions, such as Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism, in which the body produces excess amounts of thyroid hormone, resulting in weight loss, hyperactivity, insomnia, or constant hunger that is unsatisfied by eating.

Hypoglycemia is another cause of hunger and is caused by rapid fluctuations in blood sugar that lead to excessive insulin in the bloodstream. People with diabetes are especially prone to hypoglycemia. Severe cases are known to cause insulin shock and coma, so proper control of blood sugar and insulin levels is essential.

Hunger also has an emotional and mental component. Some people eat more when they are sad, depressed, stressed, or anxious. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, sedatives, and birth control pills, are also associated with increased appetite.

Hypoglycemia can progress into more-severe complications, such as insulin shock, if left untreated. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you or someone you are with is experiencing potentially life-threatening symptoms, such as convulsions or seizures, trembling, confusion or loss of consciousness, or pallor.

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.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with excessive hunger

Excessive hunger may accompany other symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with excessive hunger

Excessive hunger may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nervousness
  • Perspiration
  • Protruding eyes
  • Stress
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, excessive hunger may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have excessive hunger along with other serious symptoms including:

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)

  • Pregnancy

  • 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:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 4
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. 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
  2. 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