Hunger Pangs

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Hunger pangs are feelings of hunger. You may have used this term when you've heard your stomach rumbling or feeling empty.

Hunger pangs typically are harmless and go away once you consume food. However, if these feelings are intense and do not go away after eating, you should see a medical professional for a thorough evaluation.

This article discusses the causes, signs, symptoms, and complications of hunger pangs.

Woman looking in the fridge
Sally Anscombe / Getty Images.

Hunger Pang Symptoms

Feelings of hunger may occur at certain times of the day, depending on when you usually eat food, or they can be stimulated due to senses, such as the smell or appearance of food. Although these feelings are usually harmless, they can be uncomfortable, especially if you've gone many hours without eating.

Physical symptoms of hunger pangs include:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping, or contractions in the stomach
  • Empty feeling in your belly, or "growling sounds"
  • Cravings for high-energy foods, like sweets and carbohydrates
  • Grumpiness or moodiness
  • Headache (hunger headache) or light-headedness
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Shakiness or weakness
  • Persistent thoughts about food

Rare Symptoms

In some instances, intense hunger is caused by something else. Insatiable hunger—despite eating—that's accompanied by weight loss, can be a sign or symptom of diabetes. If you are experiencing extreme hunger due to calorie restriction, hunger pangs can lead to negative emotions, such as anger and bad temperament.

Causes of Hunger Pangs

Hunger pangs are your body's response to needing nutrients. They often occur when you have not eaten for a long time. After hours without food, blood sugar drops, and ghrelin (the hunger-signaling hormone) is released. This hormone signals to your brain that your stomach is empty. "Pang" is a term used to describe cramping due to hunger.

Other causes of hunger pangs include:

  • Hormones
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Eating behaviors
  • Dehydration
  • Unbalanced meals (those high in carbohydrates and low in fiber and protein)

Everyone experiences hunger pangs differently, some more aggressively than others.

What Medications Can Cause Hunger Pangs?

Medications can contribute to hunger pangs if they increase feelings of hunger or appetite. If you respond to hunger with foods high in carbohydrates but lacking fiber, your hunger can be consistent and appear soon after meals.

Certain classes of medications, such as steroids, can increase appetite and, as a result, cause weight gain. Long-term use of prednisone can cause feelings of hunger by mimicking other hormones in your body, suppressing sleep, and increasing food intake due to changes in brain activity.

Medications used to treat seizures and psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety may also increase appetite.

If you suspect your medication is causing you to be uncomfortably hungry or gain weight, discuss your concerns with your medical provider. Your provider might be able to guide you in reducing this effect or devise an alternative option.


Hunger pangs can be problematic if caused by other conditions, which may worsen or prevent them from going away. Prader-Willi syndrome is a genetic disorder that controls feelings of fullness. Constant overeating can lead to the onset of obesity, a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Should You Eat When You Have Hunger Pangs?

Hunger pangs are a sign your body needs to eat. Avoiding these physiological symptoms can result in uncomfortable feelings, such as headaches that impact daily functioning. In addition, skipping meals or snacks may result in missing out on key nutrients like vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and fat that are important for overall health.

Eating when you are hungry will alleviate your symptoms. And eating regular, balanced meals that contain fibrous carbohydrates, healthy fat, and protein can keep you full for hours. This is particularly helpful if you are constantly feeling hungry. If you are always hungry shortly after meals, it may be because you are not eating the right combination of foods.

What Is a Balanced Meal?

An example of a balanced meal may include baked salmon (or a protein of your choice like tofu, chicken, lean beef, or shrimp) with roasted butternut squash and sauteed broccoli.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Reach out to a healthcare provider anytime you experience consistent symptoms you are unfamiliar with. If you have pain in your stomach that won't go away or are constantly hungry, despite eating balanced meals, an evaluation is warranted.

See a healthcare provider if you are experiencing symptoms along with hunger pangs, including fever, body aches, chills, nausea, vomiting, rapid weight loss, and headaches. A thorough assessment can help to diagnose and rule out other medical conditions.

Hunger pangs associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea, gas, and vomiting, that have prevented you from eating and drinking normally may need to be evaluated, especially if you cannot keep fluids down. These can be signs of a stomach bug or foodborne illness, increasing the risk of dehydration.

If you have a history of dieting, you may have trouble with hunger cues and eating regularly. Working with a medical professional is important if you have a history of eating disorders. Early detection and treatment are essential for a full recovery.


Hunger pangs are physical symptoms of hunger. They occur when your body needs nutrients, when hormone levels shift, and when you are used to eating. This can happen if you are not eating regular, balanced meals or if you are not getting adequate sleep.

These symptoms usually are harmless and go away shortly after eating. However, if your feelings are ongoing or associated with other symptoms, you should contact a medical professional for an evaluation.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a New York-based registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.