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Increased appetite

Increased appetite is generally understood to mean an increased desire for food, or an abnormal pattern of hunger.

Definition

Increased appetite is generally understood to mean an increased desire for food, or an abnormal pattern of hunger. Hyperphagia and polyphagia are terms often used interchangeably.

Causes and associated conditions

Increased appetite may be intermittent or persist for long periods before disappearing. Depending on the circumstances, weight gain may not occur.

Abnormal hunger may be seen in the following conditions:

  • Diabetes,
  • Hyperthyroidism,
  • Manic states and bipolar disorders,
  • Brain injury and some brain tumours,
  • Bulimia,
  • Continued strenuous exercise,
  • Encephalitis,
  • Parasites,
  • Infestations (worms), and it may be
  • Drug-induced: marijuana, cortisone/steroids, antidepressants and oral contraceptives can all have this effect.

Diagnosis

A detailed history of previous eating habits; other symptoms (like thirst, or palpitations); medical and drug history; the pattern of the present problem, and an account of what is now being consumed will guide the need for further investigations. These may include:

  • Full blood count,
  • Blood tests for kidney and liver function,
  • Thyroid function tests,
  • Glucose tests for diabetes screening,
  • ECG to check for heart rhythm disturbances,
  • Allergy and stool tests for suspected worm infestation, and
  • X-rays or scans if brain pathology is suspected

Treatment

This will depend largely on having found an underlying cause – for instance, treating thyroid abnormalities.

In cases where no clear cause can be found, and lifestyle changes cannot be enforced, appetite suppressants may be considered as a short-term aid. These drugs act mainly by influencing the effects of adrenalin or other neuro-hormones in various ways. Their effect is to cause early satiety, thus limiting food intake. These drugs all have potentially harmful side effects and must be used with extreme caution, especially in the presence of underlying medical disorders such as diabetes, hypertension of heart disease.

DO NOT USE THESE DRUGS UNLESS ORDERED TO DO SO BY YOUR DOCTOR

(Dr AG Hall)



The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.