Excessive thirst is a hallmark symptom of diabetes. It’s also called polydipsia. Thirst is linked to another common diabetes symptom: urinating more than normal or polyuria.

It’s normal to feel thirsty when you’re dehydrated. This can happen because:

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Photography by Aya Brackett
  • you’re not drinking enough water
  • you’re sweating too much
  • you’ve eaten something very salty or spicy

But uncontrolled diabetes can make you feel parched all the time without any reason.

This article discusses why you feel so thirsty when you have diabetes. We also look at how to treat excessive thirst in diabetes. With the right daily medical treatment and care, you can prevent or reduce these symptoms.

Excessive thirst is one of the first signs that you might have diabetes. Thirst and having to urinate too often are both caused by too much sugar (glucose) in your blood.

When you have diabetes, your body cannot use sugars from food properly. This causes sugar to collect in your blood. High blood sugar levels force your kidneys to go into overdrive to get rid of the extra sugar.

The kidneys need to make more urine to help pass the extra sugar from your body. You will likely have to urinate more and have a higher volume of urine. This uses up more of the water in your body. Water is even pulled from your tissues to help get rid of the extra sugar.

This can make you feel very thirsty because you’re losing lots of water. Your brain will tell you to drink more water to get hydrated. In turn, this triggers more urination. The diabetes urine and thirst cycle will continue if your blood sugar levels are not balanced.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. All kinds of diabetes are chronic conditions that can affect how your body uses sugars. Sugar (glucose) is the fuel your body needs to power every single one of its functions.

Glucose from food must get into your cells, where it can be burned for energy. The hormone insulin is the only way to carry glucose into the cells. Without insulin to transport it, the sugar stays in your blood.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that stops your body from making insulin. This kind of diabetes can happen to people of any age, including children.

Type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1. It normally happens to adults. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body can still make insulin. However, you may not make enough insulin, or your body may not be able to use it properly. This is called insulin resistance.

Excessive thirst and frequent urination can happen in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. You may also have other symptoms. Both kinds of diabetes can cause similar symptoms if they’re not treated and controlled, including:

  • dry mouth
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • excess hunger
  • red, swollen, or tender gums
  • slow healing
  • frequent infections
  • mood changes
  • irritability
  • weight loss (typically in type 1)
  • numbness or tingling in hands or feet

People with type 2 diabetes may not have any symptoms for many years. Symptoms may be mild and get worse slowly. Type 1 diabetes causes symptoms quickly, sometimes in only a few weeks. Symptoms may be severe.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to inject or infuse insulin. You may also need to take other medications. There’s no cure for type 1 diabetes.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes medications that help your body make more insulin or use insulin better. You may also need to take insulin.

You may be able to control type 2 diabetes with a strict diet and regular exercise, alone. However, diabetes is a progressive disease, and you may need to take medications and insulin later in life.

Treating diabetes means balancing your blood sugar levels. Controlling your diabetes keeps your sugar levels as stable as possible. This means they don’t go too high or too low. Balancing blood sugar levels will help to reduce or prevent excess thirst.

Along with the right daily diet and exercise, you may need to take one or more diabetes medications. There are several kinds and combinations of diabetes drugs, including:

  • insulin
  • biguanides, such as metformin
  • DPP-4 inhibitors
  • SGLT2 inhibitors
  • sulfonylureas
  • thiazolidinediones
  • glucagon-like peptides
  • meglitinides
  • dopamine agonists
  • alpha-glucosidase inhibitors

Your doctor can help you manage your diabetes. Be sure to:

  • take all medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor
  • take insulin and/or medications at the right time each day
  • get regular blood tests for diabetes
  • check your own blood glucose regularly, with a meter or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)
  • see your doctor for regular check-ups

Along with medications, lifestyle changes are the key to managing your diabetes. You can live a healthy, full life with diabetes. Self-care is as important as care from your doctor. This includes a daily diet and exercise plan. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the best diet plan for you.

Lifestyle tips for diabetes include:

  • monitor your blood sugar levels before and after every meal with a home monitor
  • keep a journal with a record of your daily blood sugar levels
  • make a daily diet plan for each week
  • eat balanced meals, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables
  • add plenty of fiber to your diet
  • schedule a time for exercise every day
  • track your steps to make sure you’re walking enough every day
  • join a gym or get a fitness buddy to motivate you to exercise more
  • track your weight and lose weight if you need to
  • record any symptoms you have

If you have excess thirst or other symptoms, you may have diabetes, or your diabetes may not be well-managed.

Ask your doctor to test you for diabetes. This involves a blood test. You will have to fast for about 12 hours before the test. For this reason, it’s best to schedule your appointment first thing in the morning.

Excessive thirst may be a symptom of diabetes. Treating and controlling diabetes can prevent or reduce this symptom and others. Living with diabetes requires extra attention to your health, especially your daily diet and exercise. You may also need to take medication. Timing is important when you take insulin and other diabetes medications.

With the right medical care and lifestyle changes, you can be healthier than ever even with diabetes. Do not ignore excess thirst or any other symptoms. See your doctor for regular checkups. Your doctor may change your diabetes medications or treatment as needed.