Polyphagia (hyperphagia) is a feeling of extreme, insatiable hunger. It’s a common sign of diabetes, but it can have other medical causes, such as hyperthyroidism and atypical depression. It’s important to see a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing polyphagia.
Polyphagia, also called hyperphagia, is the medical term for a feeling of extreme, insatiable hunger. It’s a symptom of certain health conditions. Eating typically doesn’t make polyphagia go away, except in the case of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
Excess eating as a result of this feeling may or may not lead to weight gain depending on the underlying cause. In some cases, it’s associated with unexplained weight loss.
An increase in hunger is a normal bodily response to situations like fasting or strenuous exercise. But intense, insatiable hunger like polyphagia is often a sign of a health condition that needs medical treatment, such as diabetes.
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Polyphagia (extreme hunger) is a relatively uncommon symptom. It’s most often associated with undiagnosed or undertreated diabetes.
Other causes include:
Malnutrition in the form of undernutrition can also cause polyphagia. Undernutrition is a deficiency of nutrients. You may be undernourished if you don’t have an adequate diet, or if your body has trouble absorbing enough nutrients from your food.
Certain medications, such as corticosteroids and cannabinoids (cannabis-related drugs), can cause polyphagia, as well. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience extreme hunger after starting a new medication.
Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which your body doesn’t make enough or any insulin or your body doesn’t use the insulin properly. Insulin is an essential hormone that helps regulate your blood glucose (sugar) level. Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in your blood, causing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Glucose (sugar) is the main form of energy your body uses from the food you eat. Without enough insulin, your body can’t use glucose for energy. This lack of energy usage causes an increase in hunger.
The three main types of diabetes include:
Polyphagia is one of the main three signs of diabetes:
Healthcare providers often call these the “three Ps of diabetes.” Seek medical care as soon as possible if you’re experiencing these symptoms, especially if you’ve also experienced rapid weight loss. Untreated and undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes is fatal.
People with diabetes (especially T1D) can also experience polyphagia due to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) episodes. Hypoglycemia needs to be treated by consuming sugar (glucose) in order to get your blood sugar back into a healthy range. People without diabetes can experience hypoglycemia, as well.
Aside from diabetes, polyphagia can be a symptom of the following hormone-related conditions:
Polyphagia can be a symptom of the following mental health conditions:
Polyphagia is a symptom of the following rare conditions:
The treatment for polyphagia depends on the underlying cause. It usually goes away once the condition that caused it is properly treated.
For example, treatment for Type 1 diabetes involves lifelong insulin injections and managing blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia must be treated by eating or drinking sugar (glucose) or with a glucagon injection or nasal powder. Treatment for hyperthyroidism may involve antithyroid medication, radioactive iodine or surgery.
If a medication is causing polyphagia, your healthcare provider may switch the medication, if possible.
Polyphagia (extreme hunger) is usually a sign of a condition that needs medical treatment, such as diabetes, hypoglycemia episodes and hyperthyroidism. If you’re experiencing intense hunger, see a healthcare provider.
If you or your child is experiencing polyphagia along with other symptoms, such as extreme thirst, weight loss and frequent urination, go to the emergency room. You may have Type 1 diabetes, which is fatal if it’s not treated in time due to a complication called diabetes-related ketoacidosis (DKA).
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Extreme hunger that’s not fixed by eating food is often a sign of an underlying condition that needs medical treatment. If you notice a change in your or your child’s appetite, see a healthcare provider. They can order some tests to determine the cause of polyphagia.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/23/2023.
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