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Hyperphagia is a condition in which a person’s desire to eat increases suddenly. It could be a physical compulsion or the appetite increase could be the result of an emotional problem. The condition may last for extended periods of time without interruption or may disappear for intervals before reappearing.
One of the main physical causes of hyperphagia can be hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland produces overly high levels of hormones. These hormones are primarily responsible for metabolism, a chemical process that coverts calories from food into usable energy. A person whose thyroids produce a high amount of hormones may feel much hungrier than normal because his or her body believes it needs more food for energy.
Another possible physical cause of hyperphagia is hypoglycemia, a medical condition that causes an unusually low amount of sugar in the bloodstream. The body gets the majority of its energy from sugar in the bloodstream, so having a lower amount of blood sugar than normal may result in the body craving more food in order to gain more energy. Hypoglycemia can be caused by kidney disease, alcoholism, pancreatic tumors, diabetes, or starvation.
Hyperphagia may also be the side effect of some medications. Cyproheptadine, a medication used to relieve allergy symptoms, can cause an increase in appetite. The medications used to control inflammation associated with asthma and arthritis, known as corticosteroids, may also cause feelings of hunger as a side effect. Antidepressant medications can also cause appetite increase in some users.
Some mental health conditions can result in hyperphagia. Anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, and phobias, can cause a sufferer to feel hungry and turn to food as a means to feel less nervous or stressed. Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person systematically consumes large amounts of food, then purges it through vomiting or bowel movements. People with bulimia may begin to desire food more often and become mentally fixated on eating constantly.
People who suffer from hyperphagia may be treated if their doctors discover the underlying condition that causes the condition. If the hunger is a side effect from medication, a person can work with a doctor to work out a low-calorie eating plan to prevent weight gain, particularly if discontinuing the medication is not a safe option. For emotional or mental health issues that contribute to an increase in appetite, therapy may be helpful to teach patients how to deal with their problems without using food and how to differentiate between physical hunger and mental compulsions to eat.