Polyphagia, also known as hyperphagia, is a medical term for an extreme hunger that can’t be satiated by eating. This type of hunger is different from the type you’ll feel after performing a strenuous activity such as exercise or the type you get due to changes in your hormones.
With those types of hunger, eating would typically satisfy your appetite and end the hunger, but with polyphagia, to satisfy your appetite the underlying cause of your hunger must first be identified, then addressed.
POLYURIA, POLYDIPSIA AND POLYPHAGIA
Polyuria, Polydipsia, and Polyphagia are considered the 3 Ps of diabetes as they are ailments that are common in people with diabetes.
POLYURIA is one of the most common symptoms of diabetes and it is known as the tendency to urinate frequently. When glucose builds up in the bloodstream of diabetics, it can enter the tubules of the kidneys. If this happens and the glucose is not reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, it leads to increased urination because while the kidneys try to filter out the glucose, they also filter out more water from other parts of the body, leading to an overproduction of urine, hence polyuria occurs.
POLYDIPSIAP: This is the medical term for excessive thirst, and aside from diabetes, it is often associated with conditions that affect the renal system and causes frequent urination. This is why when diagnosing the cause of polyuria, it can be difficult to do so without considering polydipsia as they both occur at the same time. Polydipsia has also been associated with conditions that result in excessive fluid loss such as excessive sweating, high salt diets, and the use of diuretics.
These conditions lead the body to feel the constant need to replace liquid lost either through urine or sweat. Polydipsia is another common symptom of diabetes. to balance the excessive amount of glucose in the blood, the body creates more urine in the kidney so that glucose can be excreted quickly, hence restoring blood sugar levels to normal, however, the increased amount of fluid loss leads to an increase in thirst.
POLYPHAGIA: This is a condition which is due to inadequate or improper use of insulin, therefore cells don’t get the glucose they need for energy. In this case, the body will continue to send signals to the brain that it is hungry since it isn’t getting any from the food already eaten.
CAUSES OF POLYPHAGIA
Several conditions could be responsible for polyphagia, as well, polyphagia could be a symptom associated with several conditions, primarily diabetes.
Hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar levels which can be due to not eating enough food, eating fewer carbohydrates, physical activities, or the miscalculated dose of insulin injection. Hypoglycemia encourages the secretion of a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates food consumption, thereby increasing the feeling of hunger. It regulates blood sugar levels also. This condition is common among people who are taking insulin or diabetes medication.
Symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision
- Problem with coordination
This is the opposite of hypoglycemia. It means that there is a lot of sugar circulating in the bloodstream. Hyperglycemia is common among diabetics whose blood sugar levels are not controlled. In such patients, the body either lacks insulin or has grown resistant to it, so glucose from the food they eat can’t be converted to energy and the lack of energy causes an increase in hunger.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia may include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Slow healing of wounds, cuts, and bruises
This is a condition whereby the hormones of the thyroid glands work very quickly to carry out their functions and in the case of polyphagia, they work too quickly to control metabolism, leading to an increase in appetite.
Symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Frequent sweating
- Hair loss
4. Prementrual Syndrome (PMS)
PMS is a collection of physical, emotional, and psychological changes that some people experience before their menstrual period. One of these changes could be an increase in appetite and craving for sweet foods.
- Water retention
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
- Back or muscle pain
- Change in mood and sex drive
5. Sleep Deprivation
Lack of sleep can make it difficult for your body to control the levels of a hormone that regulates hunger by increasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which can make the body less sensitive to insulin, thereby causing an increase in blood sugar levels which can lead to hyperglycemia and eventually to polyphagia.
Sleep apnea and other sleeping disorders may cause:
- Mood changes
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Daytime sleepiness
Stress could affect your overall well-being. It can make eating, exercising, and getting good quality sleep a lot difficult, which can lead to health problems such as uncontrolled blood sugar levels. As an emotional response to stress, you might feel an increased appetite and use food as a way to cope with it, consciously or subconsciously.
Symptoms of stress include:
- Frequent cold
- Stomach upset
- Sudden aches and pains
Just as we’ve said earlier, polyphagia could be a sign of diabetes, either type-1 which is due to the body’s inability to produce insulin, or type-2 which is due to improper use of insulin by the body. Either of these types of diabetes can result in hyperglycemia as glucose continues to stay in the blood without insulin helping to distribute them into your different cells where there is a need for glucose. When this happens, your cells send a signal to your brain that you should keep eating so that they can get the glucose they need.
Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Constant urination
- Blurry vision
- Slow healing of wounds, and cuts
- Sudden weight loss
- Excessive thirst
Other causes of polyphagia may include:
- Certain psychiatric conditions
- Corticosteroid drugs
- Rare medical conditions such as Kleine-Levin syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome
Typically, treating polyphagia requires identifying the underlying cause. To do this, your doctor will consider your symptoms and may run some tests to be able to diagnose your condition. Tests such as A1C test, fasting blood sugar, glucose tolerance, or random blood sugar test. All these tests check for your blood sugar levels and even if you’re not a diabetic, polyphagia is sometimes an indication that your blood sugar levels are high and if not controlled, it could lead to any health complications such as blood vessel damage.
When sugar continues to accumulate in the blood (high blood sugar levels) with no insulin to distribute them, the accumulation begins to create tiny holes in the blood vessels. If this happens, you risk developing heart diseases, kidney diseases, vision or nerve problems, and stroke. However, sometimes polyphagia can also be due to low blood sugar levels. In this case, your doctor might advise that you should:
- Eat at specific intervals of the day and try including some satiety-friendly foods such as dairy and high fiber foods which may help with more stable glucose levels.
- Eat before and after a physical exercise
- Keep certain supplies in handy, such as fruit juice, regular soda, hard candy, or glucose tablets or injections that can help restore your blood sugar levels.
If stress or sleep deprivation is the cause of polyphagia, your doctor might advise that you maintain a healthy moderate level of activity and avoid doing strenuous work as this will reduce cortisol production in the body and also improve your sleep. Overall, managing your blood sugar levels would help in treating polyphagia, adopting a healthy meal plan, exercising, and getting enough sleep, although may not control hunger, it can help treat the underlying cause.
POLYPHAGIA VS BINGE EATING
Since both polyphagia and binge eating involves the act of overeating, telling the difference may be difficult, so making an appointment with your doctor might help in figuring out the cause of your overeating. However, while binge eating is linked with episodes of controlled eating, especially after a period of depression, polyphagia is linked with symptoms that suggest underlying medical conditions causing you to constantly feel hungry.
POLYPHAGIA IN DOGS
Dogs can also have polyphagia, although such dogs are described as having a ravenous appetite. There are 2 major causes of polyphagia in dogs: Those caused by a disease state such as diabetes, poor gastrointestinal absorption of nutrients, insulin-producing tumors, hyperadrenocorticism, and those caused by psychological reasons which often are a result of learned behaviors and overfeeding, causing weight gain and obesity.
When you notice any of these signs in your dog, speak to a vet:
- Increased appetite with weight gain or weight loss
- Change in body conformation. You may notice fat depositions all over the body.
- Agitation towards food
- Vomiting immediately after eating
Depending on the underlying cause of the polyphagia, your very may prescribe some medications such as o,p-DDD, or insulin injections, or a change in diet may simply be recommended.
Polyphagia is the constant feeling of extreme hunger which can not be satisfied by merely eating. Several medical conditions, such as diabetes, are responsible for polyphagia, and unless those conditions are controlled, polyphagia can’t be treated, and hunger can’t be satisfied.