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Patients with diabetes often experience polydipsia (excessive thirst) as one of the early symptoms. This article outlines the connection between diabetes and polydipsia.

Diabetes is a disease that is characterized by various different signs and symptoms, including one that is known as polydipsia (excessive thirst). Polydipsia is one of the earliest signs of diabetes and can occur at any time during the day. Patients with polydipsia can drink up to six liters or more of liquid every day.

It can often be hard to discern when you are just feeling thirsty or when you are feeling excessively thirsty due to diabetes or any other disease. The main signs to watch out for are:

  • If you feel thirsty all the time
  • If your thirst is stronger than before
  • You continue to be thirsty even after you drink.

So what can cause polydipsia?

Polydipsia can be caused by a variety of non-diabetic factors including:

  • Not drinking enough water after you lose fluid (like when you exercise). This is a very common cause of polydipsia.
  • If you sweat more than usual.
  • If you drink certain types of fluids (such as coffee or tea).
  • Polyuria, which is a disease in which you pass high volumes of urine. Polyuria can cause polydipsia as you are secreting so much liquid that needs to be replaced. Polyuria is diagnosed if you pass 2.5 liters or more urine within 24 hours.
  • Use of specific medications (ie. corticosteroids or diuretics) can cause excess urine.
  • When you consume high levels of vitamin D.
  • When you consume high levels of salt.
  • When you are bored and anxious and drinks large amounts of water due to the feeling of nervousness.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Blood loss.
  • Loss of fluid in the body dye to burns or infection.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Psychogenic polydipsia, a mental condition in which the patient compulsively drinks large amounts of water.
  • Diabetes.
Generally, you will feel polydipsia because it’s your body’s response to try and replace the fluids it has previously lost. While this may be accompanied by sweating or urinating a lot, it doesn’t have to be.

Polydipsia and diabetes

Polydipsia is frequently caused by diabetes. There are two different types of diabetes-related reasons for polydipsia. The first is diabetes mellitus, which is regular diabetes that is composed of two major subtypes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The second is diabetes insipidus which is independent of diabetes mellitus and can occur in anyone. You can suffer from diabetes insipidus without having diabetes mellitus.

In diabetes mellitus, patients are unable to metabolize glucose properly, leading to high blood sugar levels. Polydipsia occurs in patients with diabetes mellitus because the high sugar levels in your blood make you feel thirsty, despite how much water you may have already had.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a complication associated with high blood glucose levels that leads to polydipsia. DKA occurs when glucose can’t enter the cells. As glucose metabolism is necessary to provide energy for the body, the body instead tries to break down fat molecules to make up for the lack of energy. In the process of fat breakdown, a product called ketones gets released. Once they build up in the blood, ketones cause the blood to become acidic, which can actually be fatal.

One of the first symptoms of DKA is extreme thirst and frequent urination. Other symptoms indicative of DKA include fruity smelling breath, fatigue, dry skin, inability to concentrate, problems breathing, nausea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen, loss of consciousness and coma. This can be a fatal disease and you should seek immediate help if you experience any of these symptoms.

In diabetes insipidus, the fluids in your body are out of balance because your kidney is not able to conserve water. Therefore, even though you probably drink lots of water, you may still have a feeling that you need to drink more fluids.

Symptoms of polydipsia

Obviously, the biggest sign or symptoms of polydipsia is extreme thirst. You will know its extreme because you will still feel thirst despite the fact that you have already drank significant amounts of water.

Other symptoms include:

  • High levels of urine (about 5 liters or more of urine a day)
  • Consistent dry mouth

For patients who have polydipsia due to diabetes, these are the other symptoms that may accompany your condition:

  • Extreme hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigued or tiredness
  • Impaired or blurry vision
  • Unexplained sores or infections
  • Infection or sores that don’t heal properly

Risks associated with polydipsia

Polydipsia can cause you to drink too much water in order to quench the excess thirst, which can lead to a condition known as water intoxication, also known as water poisoning. This can be quite risky because drinking large amounts of water can dilute the salt levels of your blood, making it super low and leading to a condition known as hyponatremia. This condition is associated with headaches, dizziness, imbalance or disorientation, muscle cramps and in some, cases, seizures.

Conclusion

While it may not seem like a significant symptom, polydipsia can be extremely harmful to your body and should be addressed as soon as possible. If you feel excess thirst and have diabetes or are at a risk of diabetes, contact your doctor immediately.

  • Reinehr, Thomas. "Type 2 diabetes mellitus in children and adolescents." World journal of diabetes 4.6 (2013): 270.
  • Robertson, Gary L. "Diabetes insipidus." Endocrinology and metabolism clinics of North America 24.3 (1995): 549-572.
  • Holmes, Joseph H., and Magnus I. Gregersen. "Origin of thirst in diabetes insipidus." The American journal of medicine 4.4 (1948): 503-510.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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