What is Hypermetabolism?

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  • Written By: C. Peete
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 13 May 2019
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Hypermetabolism is a condition characterized by an abnormal increase in the body’s basal metabolic rate. It usually occurs when there is significant injury or multiple traumas to the body, such as surgery, long bone fractures, or infections. Sepsis, burns, steroid therapy and bone marrow transplants also cause it. Hypermetabolism is one of the major symptoms of hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid.

This condition causes increased peripheral insulin resistance; elevated catabolism of protein, carbohydrates, and triglycerides; and a negative nitrogen balance in the body. Symptoms include sudden weight loss, anemia, and fatigue. Individuals suffering from hyperthyroidism may experience other symptoms, such as rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and insomnia, along with a shortness of breath, muscle weakness, and nervousness. Individuals may also experience increased sensitivity to heat or excessive sweating due to elevated body heat.

While hyperthyroidism is a common form of hypermetabolism, the condition is not always a result of a thyroid disorder. Many illnesses can cause an increase in metabolism as the body attempts to fight the illness and heal itself. This increased hypermetabolic state is referred to as extrathyroidal, meaning it is not associated with the thyroid. This type is normally seen in cancer patients or patients with severe body trauma.


A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is performed to identify areas of hypermetabolic activity within the body and to determine the cause. A PET scan involves injection of a radioactive substance into a patient’s vein. The patient then waits one hour to allow the substance to absorb throughout the body, then lies on a table that is slid into a tunnel-shaped hole in the center of the PET scanner.

Some recovering anorexics or bulimics may experience this condition in the early stages of their recovery. The prolonged starvation periods associated with these eating disorders result in a significant decrease in the body's metabolic rate as the body goes into starvation mode. Once the recovering patient resumes a normal diet, their body's metabolic rate rapidly accelerates before stabilizing to normal.

Since hypermetabolism is a symptom and not a disease, treating it requires addressing the underlying illness. The duration depends on the severity of the illness or the degree of the trauma to the body. In most cases, once the underlying cause is remedied, so is the metabolic problem. Although the condition is a signal of a potentially more serious issue, it is one of the body's many defense mechanisms against disease and injury.


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Post 3

@hidingplace - Thanks for the information. One thing I did realize in retrospect however is that I’ve suffered from trembling hands for a number of years which I thought was related to having epilepsy, but now I see that it’s possible it could be because of hyperthyroidism. Sometimes I go through periods of insomnia as well. I just never made the connection between these things and my weight. I don’t have increased sensitivity to heat though, in fact I have the opposite; if it’s even remotely cold I start shivering uncontrollably. Either way, I’ll ask to get tested for hyperthyroidism next time I see my doctor.

Post 2

@Illych - Having a naturally fast metabolism isn’t at all the same as hypermetabolism. Unless you suffer from any of the other symptoms of hypermetabolism besides difficulty gaining weight, you’re most likely fine. Hypermetabolism refers more to rapid weight loss as opposed to staying at the same low weight range just because you happen to have a fast metabolism.

That’s not to say that it’s healthy to be underweight because it can put you at risk of things like osteoporosis and lead to a weakened immune system. In order to gain or lose weight you have to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle. Lift weights and continue to eat as much healthy food as you can.

Post 1

According to my Body Mass Index, I’m about five pounds underweight. Is this something I should be concerned about? I’ve seen doctors about it in the past and they’ve told me not to worry about it, but it doesn’t seem normal to be as skinny as I am and I just can’t seem to gain weight no matter how much I eat. I feel like I have a pretty healthy diet and eat as much as anyone else does but still stay the same weight no matter what.

I generally feel pretty healthy and I’ve always heard of people having naturally fast or slow metabolisms; is it possible this is why I weigh as little as I do or is it just a myth? Is having a naturally fast metabolism the same as hypermetabolism?

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