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Polyphagia: Always hungry? It could be diabetes
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Polyphagia: Always hungry? It could be diabetes

Excessive hunger due to impaired glucose metabolism and faulty brain signals is a major sign of diabetes

feeling hungry all the time can be a sign of diabetes

Do you always feel hungry and tend to overeat? Reaching out to those kitchen cabinets to satiate your hunger pangs all the time could be a sign of diabetes. Polyphagia or excessive hunger is one of the three Ps of diabetes, which also include polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyuria (increased urination). Usually, they occur together. Experts say that when a person is constantly hungry, eating multiple times a day or consuming more than 1600 or 1800 calories, it is called polyphagia.

Is polyphagia a symptom of diabetes?

Dr. Shaival Chandalia, Consultant, Endocrinology & Diabetics, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai says polyphagia can be a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes. “If you have low sugar, you can get more hungry. But it is temporary. If you have high sugar levels, the increased hunger will be there throughout the day. Most of the time, people have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes for an average of four to five years before the diagnosis,” he says.

He recalls the case of a 45-year-old working professional with a history of polyphagia, polyuria and polydipsia.

“He also had some inflammation in his genital areas, which could also be a sign of undiagnosed diabetes. His blood sugar test reported glucose levels of about 253. So, we interpreted diabetes as the cause of his polyphagia,” he says. He was prescribed diabetes medications, which helped reduce his blood sugar and appetite.

Diabetes and polyphagia

Dr Lakshmi Nalini Kopalle, Consultant Endocrinologist, Hyderabad, says polyphagia can be caused due to functional and pathological conditions. One of the most common pathological conditions is diabetes. “The blood sugar from the food is usually metabolised in the body and used as energy, which is utilised by the organs. In diabetes mellitus, the passage for glucose or energy from blood to the organs is impaired. The organs are thus deprived of energy, despite plenty of it being available. So, a signal of starvation goes to the brain and the person feels hungry,” she explains.

She says that it could also occur if the hunger or satiety centre (hypothalamus) in the brain is damaged due to head injury, tumour or other reasons. “The person may not know that their tummy is full and will always crave food. Children with genetic defects can also have the urge to continuously eat. Emotional eating or anxiety can also cause polyphagia. When a person is very anxious, they don’t understand the difference between the metabolic needs of the body and the urge to eat when they are not hungry,” she adds.

Does polyphagia cause weight loss?

Polyphagia can be associated with weight loss. Experts say the glucose is not utilised by the body and is excreted when the person with uncontrolled diabetes is passing a lot of urine. “Glucose is a molecule that goes in the urine when a lot of it gets accumulated in blood. This glucose passes in water along with water. Polyuria, polydipsia and polyphagia and weight loss all occur together. Around 30% to 40% individuals have these symptoms. But not everyone with uncontrolled diabetes will have polyphagia,” says Dr Kopalle.

Dr Chandalia adds that weight loss occurs especially when the sugar level is more than 200. “The kidneys are not able to filter or reabsorb glucose from the liver and that’s how you lose calories in the urine, resulting in weight loss,” he says.

He adds that polyphagia is common among both Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. “98% of all diabetics in our country are type 2 diabetic and it is more commonly seen in them. But in type 1 diabetes, due to complete insulin deficiency, weight loss and polyphagia are more prominent,” he says.

Impact of diabetes medication

He says that as diabetes medicines increase insulin secretion, it helps reduce the loss of calories through urine. “They can aid blood glucose or nutrients to pass onto the cells which reduces excessive hunger. There are specific diabetic medicines that also help reduce appetite,” he says.

Ways to manage polyphagia, if diabetic

  • Taking proper medications on time
  • Proper diet
  • Exercises
  • Managing diabetes

Takeaways

  • Polyphagia (excessive hunger) along with polydipsia (excessive thirst) and polyuria (excessive urination) can be symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes. 
  • When a person is constantly hungry, eating multiple times a day or consuming more than 1600 or 1800 calories, it is called polyphagia. 
  • One of the most common reasons for polyphagia is diabetes.
  • Proper lifestyle and diet can help manage both the conditions.

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