What is polydipsia?

Polydipsia is a medical name for the feeling of extreme thirstiness.

Polydipsia is often linked to urinary conditions that cause you to urinate a lot. This can make your body feel a constant need to replace the fluids lost in urination. It can also be caused by physical processes that cause you to lose a lot of fluid. This can include sweating during exercise, eating a high-salt diet, or taking drugs that cause you to pass a lot of fluid, such as diuretics.

This condition is considered one of the earliest symptoms of diabetes. It’s especially common in diabetes mellitus. This type of diabetes includes a few conditions that make it harder for your body to process and use glucose, also called blood sugar. When your body can’t properly digest blood sugars, your blood sugar levels can get abnormally high. High blood sugar levels can cause you to feel extremely thirst as a result.

Polydipsia can be caused simply by not drinking enough water after you lose a lot of fluid. If you sweat a lot or drink certain fluids, such as coffee or green and black tea, you’ll often feel extremely thirsty as your body seeks to replace the fluid that’s been lost. Dehydration due to not drinking enough water is also a common cause of polydipsia. You can feel this whether or not you’ve been sweating or urinating a lot. Polyuria, a condition in which you pass abnormally large amounts of urine, can also cause polydipsia.

Polydipsia is also an early symptom of diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus. Diabetes mellitus causes polydipsia because your blood sugar levels get too high and make you feel thirsty, regardless of how much water you drink. Diabetes insipidus occurs when your body’s fluid levels are out of balance. Even though you may drink a lot of water, you still may feel an urgent need to drink more fluids. You may urinate a lot even when you haven’t had that much to drink.

Other recorded causes of polydipsia include:

  • certain medications, such as corticosteroids or diuretics in pill form, such as water pills
  • consuming a lot of salt or vitamin D in foods or drinks
  • boredom or anxiety that causes you to drink a lot of water due to nervousness, which has also been observed in horses and dogs

The most obvious symptom of polydipsia is a feeling of extreme thirstiness. This symptom is especially noticeable when you feel this way even after you’ve already drunk a lot of water.

Other common symptoms of polydipsia include:

  • passing abnormally high amounts of urine (more than 5 liters a day)
  • a persistent feeling of dryness in your mouth

You might notice other symptoms if your polydipsia is due to an underlying condition like diabetes. Some common diabetes mellitus symptoms that might accompany polydipsia include:

  • feeling abnormally hungry
  • having blurry vision
  • exhaustion
  • abnormal weight loss
  • getting frequent sores or infections
  • slow healing of sores or infections

Drinking too much water can also lead to water intoxication, which is sometimes called water poisoning. This condition happens when you drink excessive amounts of water. Doing so can dilute the amount of sodium in your blood and lower your blood sodium to dangerously low levels, also called hyponatremia. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • headaches
  • feelings of dizziness or disorientation
  • muscle cramps or spasms
  • unexplained seizures

In some cases, you may mistake a temporary period of extreme thirst for polydipsia. Before seeing your doctor for polydipsia, closely monitor your feelings of extreme thirst:

  • How often do you feel thirsty?
  • How long are you thirsty at one time?
  • Do you notice any other symptoms when you feel thirsty?
  • Do you only feel extremely thirsty after doing certain activities?
  • Do you still feel extremely thirsty after drinking 64 ounces or more of water throughout the day?

See your doctor if your feelings of extreme thirst last for longer than a few days and don’t change a lot based on your level of activity or the amount of water you drink.

Treatment for polydipsia may depend on the condition that’s causing it. Your doctor will likely do the following to diagnose you:

  • perform blood tests
  • take a urine sample
  • ask you to drink less fluid for a certain amount of time (a fluid deprivation test)

If diabetes mellitus is causing your polydipsia, your doctor will likely give you a medication to control your blood sugar. You may also need to give yourself regular insulin injections. Your doctor may also recommend developing a nutrition plan to help you eat and drink a balanced diet to help treat your diabetes symptoms. An exercise plan may help keep you physically healthy and fit.

If you have diabetes insipidus, your doctor will advise you to drink a certain amount of water to make sure you don’t get dehydrated. Your doctor may also give you medication to keep your symptoms under control. These medications can include desmopressin in the form of a pill or injection.

If your polydipsia has a psychological cause, your doctor may recommend that you see a counselor or therapist to help you get your feelings of compulsion to drink excessive amounts of water under control.

Your doctor might also suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) if a mental health issue is causing your polydipsia. This can help you become more aware of environmental or personal triggers that might be causing you to feel the need to drink too much. It can also teach you how to cope with these feelings in a healthier way.

Several types of polydipsia exist that are defined by their underlying causes. Some causes are physical. Others can be caused by psychogenic, or mental, issues. Types of polydipsia include:

  • Psychogenic (primary) polydipsia: This type of polydipsia is caused by anxiety, boredom, stress, or underlying mental health issues, rather than something biological.
  • Drug-induced polydipsia: This is caused by certain drugs or vitamins that cause polyuria, such as diuretics, vitamin K, salt intake, and corticosteroids.
  • Compensatory polydipsia: Compensatory polydipsia is caused by lowered levels of antidiuretic hormones in your body. This can lead to excessive urination.

Based on the cause and success of treatments of polydipsia, you’ll more than likely be able to get it under control without disrupting your life or affecting your daily activities.

Some lifestyle changes, such as exercise or better nutrition, may help keep your symptoms mild, especially if you have an underlying condition like diabetes mellitus. In these cases, getting a treatment plan from your doctor is important to keep yourself healthy overall and to prevent other complications of diabetes. Getting your excessive drinking under control can also prevent the complications of drinking too much water, such as hyponatremia.

Talk to your doctor about the best way to manage your symptoms and treat any conditions you have.