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What is Hyperphagia? Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Hyperphagia, or excessive appetite, is an exaggerated increase in the feeling of hunger or desire to eat, for no apparent reason. The word comes from the Greek roots “hyper”, which means “excess”, and “phagia”, which means “to eat.” This problem leads to a disproportionate intake of food.

The feeling of hunger is perfectly normal. It occurs when the body requires nutrients to function properly.

However, what’s not normal is to feel like eating all the time, even shortly after eating a bit meal. It’s in those cases when we talk about hyperphagia.

The unbridled increase in appetite can be a sign of different illnesses. Sometimes, it’s a symptom of endocrine disorders or has to do with mental disorders. In some cases, hyperphagia occurs only for a short time and then disappears. In others, it persists for long periods.

Let’s take a closer look.

What does it mean to have an excessive appetite?

An excessive increase in the sensation of appetite is known in medical terms as hyperphagia. In this condition. there’s an irresistible desire to eat, even when there’s no need for it. The affected person consumes an abundant amount of food and does so continuously.

One of the characteristics of hyperphagia is that the person swallows the food, without barely chewing it. It’s an alimentary disorder, generally of psychological origin, that’s very frequently accompanied by bulimia.

It’s very common for those who suffer from hyperphagia to prolong their meals beyond what’s usual. They don’t stop eating within a reasonable time but continue to eat. In almost all cases, there’s a predilection for certain types of food, especially sugary or fatty products.

Another distinctive feature of this disorder is that the affected person shows signs of shame regarding their condition. If someone looks at them, they often appear nervous.

However, they can’t manage to stop the voracious appetite they experiences. Nor do they stop eating, despite their shame.

Causes of Hyperphagia

Excessive appetite or hyperphagia isn’t a disease in itself, but the symptom of another disorder. Sometimes, the cause of this problem is a bodily condition. Those who suffer from diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, or hypoglycemia may have episodes of hyperphagia.

Some drugs can contribute to this problem. These are drugs that inhibit the production of leptin, the hormone in charge of regulating the sensation of hunger. If it doesn’t work correctly, the sensation of satiety with food doesn’t appear either.

Research on mice, such as that which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, has correlated problems in the production of this hormone with the process of hyperphagia.

Most frequently, however, this problem has to do with a psychological disorder. Stress, depression or anxiety can cause eating disorders. It’s very common for bulimia to accompany hyperphagia, according to a study published in 2008.

In bulimia, there’s an excessive intake of food for a short time, episodes which we commonly call “binge eating“. The affected person then experiences strong feelings of guilt and seeks to eliminate excess food through induced vomiting or laxatives.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

As we’ve already pointed out, one of the typical symptoms of hyperphagia is the feeling of shame it produces in those who suffer from it. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for affected persons to end up isolating themselves at mealtime to prevent others from detecting their behavior.

This type of person snacks at all times, even in the early hours of the morning. The sensation of hunger doesn’t disappear and, for that reason, they can’t resist. This behavior often accompanied by feelings of depression and low self-esteem.

This excessive way of eating causes digestive problems. So, it’s not uncommon for there to be heartburn, diarrhea, vomiting, and gastric discomfort. This often leads to other diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular problems.

Excessive food intake also causes drowsiness and slows down a person’s normal activity. The diagnosis is usually made based on behavioral observation. Usually, it’s the witnesses to the behavior who warn of the problem.

Treatment for excessive appetite

To carry out treatment, the cause of the hyperphagia must first be determined. If it’s linked to an underlying organic disease, then treating this disease will help prevent episodes of excess appetite.

Similarly, if the problem is produced by a drug, if possible, this should be replaced by another that doesn’t produce this side effect. If the cause is psychological, then it will require the intervention of a psychologist. This professional will focus on increasing self-esteem and decreasing anxiety.

Sometimes, this disorder is completely inoffensive and temporary. Such is the case of pregnant women, athletes, and adolescents. In all three cases, there are moments in which extra consumption of nutrients is required, and, for that reason, appetite tends to increase excessively.

Hyperphagia, a disorder linked to eating behaviors

Hyperphagia produces an excessive appetite that leads to consuming more food than necessary. It’s important to identify the causes to treat it.

If you suspect that you may suffer from this disorder, go to your doctor to start adequate treatment.

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