Diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus involve different hormones and aren’t related conditions. But they do have similar symptoms of excessive thirst and frequent urination.

Diabetes affects millions of people in the United States and across the world, from type 1 or type 2 diabetes to gestational diabetes. These are all forms of what’s known as diabetes mellitus.

A much rarer condition that you may not have heard of is diabetes insipidus.

Despite their similar names, diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus are not related. That said, they can both cause frequent urination and excessive thirst. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to let your doctor know so that they can perform diagnostic tests to determine the exact underlying cause.

This article will explain the differences between these two conditions, how a couple of key symptoms may appear to be the same, and how you can best work with your healthcare team in diagnosing the underlying cause and treating the condition.

Diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus are not related.

Diabetes mellitus is a common condition that affects around 1 in 10 people in the United States. It affects the body’s ability to convert glucose into energy.

On the other hand, diabetes insipidus is a rare condition that affects only 1 in 25,000 people globally. For people with this condition, their bodies have trouble balancing water levels.

Although they both have symptoms that include excessive thirst and urination, they are not caused by the same issues or related in other ways.

You can read more here about type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as well as gestational diabetes, and how each of those conditions can include similar symptoms and treatment options.

Why do they both have ‘diabetes’ in the name?

The word “diabetes” is a Greek word that means siphon. In both diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus, this word is a reference to urine, or the fluid filtered out by the kidneys.

“Mellitus” is a Latin word meaning sweet. This word was chosen because urine filtered from the kidneys in an individual with diabetes mellitus can have a sweeter, fruitier smell from the extra glucose in it.

“Insipidus” also comes from Latin, but it means tasteless. The name “diabetes insipidus” refers to the fact that the extra urine produced in this condition is often odorless and very pale.

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People with diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus can share similar symptoms. These include:

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urination, even during the night
  • passing more urine than usual

Differences between diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus include:

  • Hormones: The bodies of people with diabetes mellitus either have difficulty producing sufficient insulin or are unable to utilize the insulin that’s produced normally. People with diabetes insipidus have bodies that have difficulty with the chemical arginine vasopressin (AVP).
  • High blood sugar levels: As a result of the different hormones involved, people with diabetes mellitus can experience high blood sugar levels. Diabetes insipidus, on the other hand, won’t affect your blood sugar.
  • Health complications: When people with diabetes mellitus experience high blood sugar trends and A1C levels over time, it can cause serious damage to the heart, kidneys, and other organs. Meanwhile, people with unchecked diabetes insipidus can become dehydrated and face associated health concerns, like electrolyte imbalances.

It’s possible, but unlikely, to have both diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus.

A 2018 study notes that diabetes insipidus is unlikely but may be possible for someone with type 2 diabetes if their blood sugar and A1C levels are not under sufficient control.

Polydipsia, polyuria, and polyphagia are the three P’s of diabetes.

  • Polydipsia refers to extreme thirst. In both diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus, this symptom can be related to a need to replace the fluids lost in excess urination.
  • Polyuria is a medical term for excessive urine volume. Individuals with diabetes insipidus experience this because of the kidneys’ inability to properly balance water. For those with diabetes mellitus, the body will produce more urine in an effort to release extra glucose from the body.
  • Polyphagia refers to an increase in appetite that eating doesn’t control. In individuals with diabetes mellitus, this hunger can occur when glucose can’t enter cells due to low insulin levels or insulin resistance.

People with diabetes mellitus can use insulin to control their blood sugar.

For individuals with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin, and taking insulin is necessary to help glucose enter muscle cells and provide energy. Those with type 2 diabetes may also require additional insulin as a result of insulin resistance.

Since diabetes insipidus doesn’t affect blood sugar, additional insulin isn’t necessary and won’t act as a treatment for the symptoms.

Depending on the specific type of diabetes mellitus you have, you may treat your condition with lifestyle changes, dietary changes, insulin, or other medications.

If you need to take insulin, you may choose an injection, a pump, or an inhaler, and you’ll work with your diabetes care team to determine what dosages and types of insulin may be best for you. Those with type 2 diabetes may not need insulin, but they could also benefit from other diabetes medications in pill form.

For central diabetes insipidus, doctors may suggest increasing the amount of water you drink as well as taking desmopressin. This is a medication that’s harder for the body to break down than natural AVP.

When you have nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, however, your doctor won’t recommend taking desmopressin because there is sufficient AVP in your body. If a medication you’re taking is causing it, you may need a different drug that won’t affect how your kidneys respond to AVP.

Making changes to what you eat may also reduce the amount of urine the kidneys produce. This may include fish, berries, and dark leafy greens.

They may have similar names and share the symptoms of extreme thirst and urination, but diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus are not related conditions.

People with any type of diabetes mellitus need to manage their blood sugar levels by using insulin or other diabetes medications. On the other hand, people with diabetes insipidus experience problems with the hormone AVP, which can cause the kidneys to improperly balance water in the body.

You can work with your healthcare team to determine what your symptoms may suggest, the underlying cause of your symptoms, and what treatment options may work best for you.