Various factors — such as stress, increased activity, and certain medical conditions — can cause an elevated appetite. In females, low estrogen can play a role.

Increased appetite is not always a cause for concern. However, it can be a sign of some medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes.

Once people receive a diagnosis, they can begin management and treatment, which can help a person live a long, healthy life.

This article discusses the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of an increased appetite and explains when it is not a problem.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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An increased appetite may be a symptom of various conditions, or it may relate to other factors.

Diabetes

An increased appetite — along with tiredness and increased thirst — are all symptoms of diabetes.

Although symptoms occur quickly in type 1 diabetes, they develop more gradually in type 2. An increased appetite occurs when sugar in the diet does not reach the body’s cells, which stimulates hunger even after eating a large meal.

Learn more about diabetes.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormones than a person needs. This increases a person’s appetite. However, despite this effect, the condition results in weight loss.

Other symptoms include nervousness, a fast heartbeat, and frequent bowel movements.

It affects 1 in 100 Americans and is more common in females and individuals older than 60.

Learn more about hyperthyroidism.

Depression

While depression can cause a loss of appetite, it can also cause increased appetite and weight gain.

A 2018 review reports that cortisol — a hormone the body produces in response to stress — can increase appetite. If high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods are available, it can lead to higher food intake and be a potential cause for obesity.

People with both depression and obesity have a higher risk of developing a worsening of depression symptoms. Therefore, it is important to treat depression symptoms in order to manage appetite.

Learn more about depression.

Post-COVID-19 effect

A 2021 study reports that approximately 36 in 100 people with COVID-19 develop a condition known as post-COVID-19 syndrome. Other names for this are long COVID and long haulers. The syndrome involves long-term symptoms that stem from how the coronavirus infection can harm the brain and spinal cord.

Some people with this condition experience increased appetite.

Learn more about long COVID.

Insomnia

Research from 2022 explains that physiological changes from a lack of sleep may result in increased appetite and eating. A variety of factors can explain this, including hormonal imbalances and low energy.

Learn more about insomnia.

Stopping smoking

Increased appetite is a common symptom people experience when they quit smoking.

The absence of nicotine can cause a person’s sense of taste and smell to return to normal, which makes eating more enjoyable. Additionally, nicotine is an appetite suppressant, so stopping smoking can cause a person’s appetite to increase.

Learn more about quitting smoking.

A 2022 study notes that the female hormone estradiol reduces appetite and increases feelings of satiety, or fullness, which helps prevent weight gain.

Consequently, stages of a female’s life that associate with reduced estradiol have a link to increased appetite and weight gain. These include:

  • Adolescence: This is the period between puberty and adulthood.
  • Pregnancy: It is normal for a person to have an increased appetite during pregnancy as their daily calorie needs increase.
  • Perimenopause: This period is when a female’s body makes the natural transition to menopause.
  • Menopause: This is the time in the life of a female that begins 12 months after the last menstrual cycle.

A doctor bases a diagnosis on a medical history and exam, which includes asking about all medications a person takes and their co-occurring symptoms.

The diagnostic process involves blood tests and, depending on the suspected condition, imaging and other tests.

Treatment and management depend on the underlying cause of increased appetite. The below interventions provide a general idea of treatment approaches:

  • Diabetes: Treatment for this may include dietary recommendations and encouragement to stop smoking, but medications may also be necessary.
  • Hyperthyroidism: This may require medications, surgery, or radioiodine therapy, which slowly destroys thyroid gland cells.
  • Depression or insomnia: Early interventions may include getting regular exercise as this improves mood and sleep. However, some people may need medications or other treatments.
  • Quitting smoking: Management of an increased appetite resulting from quitting smoking may entail keeping healthy snacks — such as carrot and celery sticks — on hand.

An increased appetite is not always a problem. For instance, exercise stimulates the drive to eat due to the higher energy expenditure.

Additionally, certain medications, such as steroids like prednisone, can increase appetite.

Sometimes a doctor may prescribe a steroid for a person to take only for a limited time. When this is the case, the increased appetite is merely a side effect that will disappear once a person finishes their prescription.

That said, if an individual takes steroids long-term and they experience an increased appetite, they should discuss it with a doctor.

Since other medications may also increase appetite, anyone who experiences this symptom after starting on a new prescription should report it to their doctor.

When an increased appetite persists over time, a person should contact a doctor. This is especially true if other symptoms co-occur or if it results in weight gain.

Because an increased appetite is a symptom that may indicate the presence of a condition that needs treatment, it is important to get medical attention.

Causes of an increased appetite include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, depression, post-COVID-19 syndrome, insomnia, and quitting smoking. A diagnosis involves a history, exam, blood tests, and possibly imaging and other tests.

Sometimes, an increased appetite does not indicate a problem. It may happen in response to exercise, or it may be a side effect of medication that is only necessary to take short-term.

When treatment is necessary, the goal is to manage the underlying condition.