Updated 11 February 2013

Increased appetite

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



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.



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



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.


(Dr AG Hall)


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