Polyphagia is a condition characterized by excessive hunger and an increase in appetite. No matter how much you consume, the feeling of hunger seems to always be present.
Think about the last time you were hungry. It might have been after intense exercise, or maybe you had skipped a meal. You might have eaten more to quell those hunger pains, but eventually you felt full. But if you’re always hungry and can’t seem to get full, you could be showing a sign of diabetes.
Three main symptoms of diabetes
There are three main symptoms to look out for with diabetes: polyphagia, polydipsia, and polyuria.
Polyphagia: Increased hunger.
Polydipsia: Increased thirst.
Polyuria: Increased urination.
Causes and symptoms of polyphagia
There are many causes of polyphagia including:
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- Binge eating disorder
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Premenstrual symptom
- Prescription medication
- Psychiatric conditions
As mentioned, the main symptom of polyphagia is excessive hunger. This hunger does not go away and you may find yourself overeating.
Polyphagia and diabetes
Although polyphagia has many causes, there is a strong link between polyphagia and diabetes. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to use and produce glucose, or blood sugar. Sugar in the blood is necessary for cells in the body to perform their job. When blood sugar is low, a person may begin to feel hungry. Because in diabetes glucose is not being used properly, diabetics may continue to feel hungry even after they eat.
To combat polyphagia in people with diabetes, a patient may seek help from their doctor and dietician. Because there is a risk of overeating and, thus, gaining weight – which is bad for diabetics – a dietician can put these patients on meal plans that cut calories and balance out meals to ensure proper nutrition. Essentially, a diabetic patient with polyphagia will eat many small meals throughout the day. This can help the symptoms of polyphagia subside and prevent future episodes.
Using insulin can help with polyphagia, too. This, of course, must be done under the watchful eye of a doctor – each diabetes case is different, and the use of insulin is up to the judgment of your doctor.
Hunger and hyperglycemia
In hyperglycemia, glucose cannot enter the cells either due to lack of insulin or insulin resistance, meaning food cannot be converted into energy. When energy is low, hunger increases. But, unfortunately, simply eating does not get rid of the hunger. Instead, exercising can help, as it can reduce glucose levels, thus curbing hunger.
Hunger and hypoglycemia
In hypoglycemia, hunger is caused by low glucose levels. As a response, the body releases glucose from the liver in order to return glucose levels back to normal. In the case of hypoglycemia, patients should eat food, preferably something sweet, to bring glucose up quickly before complications can set in.
Polyphagia is a symptom rather than a disorder on its own. Therefore, treatment involves addressing the underlying disorder – in most cases, it is diabetes. Polyphagia is a controllable condition as long as you are aware of its cause.
If you’re concerned that you are constantly hungry and, therefore, overeating, speak with your doctor, especially if diabetes runs in your family. Although the cause of polyphagia can vary, the link between diabetes and polyphagia is clear.