Know What is Polydipsia (Excessive Thirst) – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Reviewed By: Dr. Anupam Ghose, MBBS January 1, 2022

We feel thirsty when the water level in our body goes down below a threshold level or when the osmolite levels are too high. Brain cells detect these changes and signal the desire to drink water or fluids. This signal is thirst. Taking adequate fluids or water keeps us healthy.  Read this article to know “what is polydipsia along with symptoms, causes and treatment”.

But there are conditions when you feel thirsty most of the time despite taking lots of fluids or water. This excessive thirst also known as Polydipsia is a medical condition that requires treatment. It is a symptom of diabetes and a condition found in 6% to 17% of chronically ill psychiatric patients [2].

Let’s explore the causes, signs, and treatment of Polydipsia.

Causes of Excessive Thirst

Polydipsia is a feeling of excessive thirst despite drinking plenty of water. It is also known as excessive thirst or water intoxication. It is generally accompanied by dryness of the mouth. Generally, polydipsia condition can last for a few days or weeks. But if this condition persists it requires medical treatment as it can be due to other health ailments like diabetes, kidney problems, sepsis, dehydration, or mental illness.

Polydipsia or excessive thirst

How Much Fluid Does Our Body Needs?

According to a research study, drinking fluids is highly essential for a healthy body and mood. Fluid loss causes dehydration and it can have negative impacts on health. Fluid loss can cause mood disturbances, difficulty in concentration, and increased headache frequencies. Due to fatigue and body loss causing mild dehydration, the person’s physical and mental performance ability decreases [4].

Thus, maintaining proper body fluids is highly essential. Body fluid loss can occur daily through breathing, sweating, the passing of urine, and bowel movements. Drinking water and fluids replenishes this loss of the body fluid.

To remain, healthy doctors, advise consuming 8 glasses of water per day. But the general guidelines are as follows:

  • 3.7 liters of water/ fluids per day for a healthy male
  • 2.7 litres of water/fluids per day for healthy females [3].

But remember the body fluid intake may depend on the following factors and you should consider these factors to balance your body fluid needs.

  • Physical activeness and exercises: Due to excessive physical activities and exercise you may sweat heavily. Thus, the demand for your body fluids increases. In such a case it is necessary to drink more fluids to cover the fluid loss.
  • Geographical area: If you are living in a hot or humid place, you may sweat heavily resulting in more fluid loss. Dehydration can occur in such a climate and thus drinking more fluids is necessary [3].
  • Pregnancy & lactation: Due to pregnancy and lactation it is necessary to drink more fluids to balance the body fluids needs.
  • Health: If you are suffering from vomiting, diarrhea, or similar ailments, you need to drink more fluids to avoid dehydration [3].

Summary

Drink fluids (8 glasses of water per day) to stay physically and mentally active.

What Causes Excessive Thirst/Polydipsia?

The various causes of excessive thirst or polydipsia are as follows:

  • Dehydration: excessive body fluids loss causes fatigue and weakness resulting in dehydration. One can feel thirsty to overcome dehydration. Serious forms of dehydration can be fatal especially in children and infants.
  • Diabetes Mellitus: Due to high blood sugar levels the person may feel thirsty and has a huge desire for frequent urination. Due to frequent urination, there is body fluid loss thus creating the desire for excessive thirst. Excessive thirst is thus one of the primary symptoms of diabetes.
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA): High ketones levels in the blood cause electrolyte imbalances. These imbalances affect kidney functioning and increase thirst.
  • Diabetes insipidus: this disease is caused due to imbalance of body fluids. The disease affects the kidney’s ability to control the water within the body. This results in low vasopressin levels causing excessive water loss causing more desire to drink water and to urinate.
  • Sepsis: This is a serious life-threatening infection that causes damage to body tissues and organs especially kidneys. It results in dehydration and thus increases the desire to drink more water.
  • Mental illness like schizophrenia: it is found that 6 to 17% of mentally ill patients suffer from excessive thirst [2].
  • Dry mouth: Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands produce less saliva. This increases the desire of drinking causing thirst.
  • Kidney illness: Kidney disease can cause the failure of kidney control in regulating body water levels. This can cause excessive water loss resulting in more desire to drink water.
  • Medicine reaction: Taking medicines like diuretics and reaction of medicines causing imbalances in body minerals causes thirst.

Summary

Causes of Polydipsia can be diseases like diabetes, diabetes insipidus, dehydration, kidney illness, mental illness, dry mouth, diabetes ketoacidosis, or medication reactions.

Symptoms of Polydipsia

Having a constant desire to drink water despite drinking water may be an indication of health problems that can cause serious health issues. Thus, it is essential to address this issue as early as possible. The symptoms of polydipsia are as follows:

  • Having excessive desire to drink even after drinking plenty of water [5].
  • Urinating more than 2.5 litres per day [5]
  • Feeling fatigued and dehydrated.
  • Blurred vision, nausea, and confusion
  • Cramps and tremors
  • Dry mouth with soreness, bad breathes, difficulty in speaking, and burning sensation[5].
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Hyponatremia i.e. the sodium levels in the body are extremely low [2].

Seek immediate medical attention if you notice these symptoms with a constant desire to drink water. Hyponatremia with Polydipsia is due to complications of mental illness. Getting immediate treatment and regular evaluation is necessary.

Also Read: HbA1c Test Normal Ranges

Diabetes and Polydipsia

Blood glucose enters the body cells with the help of insulin. The body cells use this glucose to release energy. But in diabetes mellitus, the blood glucose levels are high. The body cells become either insulin resistant or there is insulin deficiency. Thus, the glucose remains free in the blood.

In such a scenario with high blood glucose levels, the kidneys work hard to remove this excessive glucose from the blood. This increases the desire to urinate frequently. Excessive urination causes the desire for thirst. Thus, the person with diabetes feels thirsty and urinates frequently.

Summary

Excessive thirst and frequent urination are initial signs of diabetes.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Polydipsia

Diagnosis of Polydipsia

Polydipsia diagnosis requires examining the patient’s complete health history. The health expert may ask a question related to your previous illness, family health issues, medicines currently in use, and other related conditions.

Apart from that, the health expert shall do a physical examination for symptoms. Based on the need following tests may be needed for complete diagnosis:

  • Blood glucose level tests
  • Urine analysis
  • Urine electrolyte tests
  • Vasopressin level analysis tests
  • Complete blood count and Serum electrolyte tests
  • Serum osmolality tests
  • Fluid deprivation test for checking diabetes insipidus

Treatment of Polydipsia

Polydipsia treatment aims to control the body fluids levels. The treatment focuses on correcting the root cause of excessive thirst.

General Treatment of Polydipsia: 

  • The treatment begins by controlling dehydration or preventing dehydration. To do so the patient has to drink more water to balance the body fluids demand.
  • Desmopressin is given to control the vasopressin levels [1].
  • For acute conditions, supportive treatment and fluid restriction may be required.
  • Hypertonic saline is used for treating severe case Polydipsia [1].
  • For normalizing sodium serum levels, medical admission is necessary to avoid congestive heart failure.
  • Long–term polydipsia management includes regular monitoring of the sodium serum levels and restriction of fluid intake.

Disease-specific treatment of Polydipsia:

  • Treatment for Polydipsia due to diabetes: The main treatment here focuses on controlling the blood glucose levels. Medicines like insulin, metformin etc. are used for controlling glucose levels. Along with medicines, the patient should follow a proper diet plan and have a good lifestyle change that help in controlling blood glucose levels.
  • Treatment for Polydipsia due to mental illness: In such patients treatment includes counseling and controlling therapies with an aim to make the patient learn to control the desire to drink more water [1].

Complications Due to Polydipsia

Polydipsia requires proper treatment and if left untreated it can lead to serious health complications. Some of the health complications due to polydipsia are as follows:

  • Bladder dilation: this can cause urine flow problems and other urinary tract infections.
  • Hydronephrosis i.e. swelling of the kidney due to excessive urine build-up. It can cause kidney failure.
  • Congestive Heart failure
  • Hyponatremia results in low sodium levels in the body. It can cause tremors, vomiting, nausea, confusion, etc.
  • Enuresis ie inability to control the urination process.
  • Kidney or renal failure

A patient with poor diabetes management can have polydipsia complications. Thus, proper management of diabetes and polydipsia is highly essential to avoid the risks of these complications.

Bottom line

Polydipsia is an excessive thirst condition and is a sign of health problems like diabetes, kidney issues, diabetes ketoacidosis, and other health problems. Early recognition of polydipsia can reduce the complications of kidney failure, heart failure, uncontrolled diabetes, etc.

Remember polydipsia is treatable or manageable. It is an initial sign of diabetes and thus it can help in the early diagnosis of diabetes. Early diagnosis of diabetes helps in proper controlling and management of diabetes.

Also Read: Janumet Tablet Uses and Side Effects

FAQs:

Can I have dehydration due to high blood glucose levels?

Yes, high blood glucose levels cause frequent urination. It is due to the fact that body excretes excessive glucose through urine. This frequent loss of water from the body without any regular water intake may cause dehydration.

Which specialist doctor to consult for treating polydipsia?

Endocrinologist are the best choice for the diagnosis and treatment of polydipsia. Sometimes the doctor may refer to another specialist for further health advice and treatment.

How much water consumption is considered Polydipsia or excessive thirst?

If you drink more than 5 litres of water per day with normal temperature and with normal physical activities then it may indicate early signs of polydipsia. Generally, frequent urination is seen along with Polydipsia.

References:

  • Robert M. Kliegman (2020). Diabetes Insipidus, Approach to the Patient With Polyuria, Polydipsia, and Hypernatremia. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/polydipsia.
  • Oliver Freudenreich & Donald C. Goff (2010). Psychotic Patients, General Hospital Psychiatry (Sixth Edition), 2010. Retrieved from:  https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/polydipsia.
  • Water: How much should you drink every day? Retrieved from:  https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256
  • Lawrence E Armstrong et al. (2012). Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. J Nutr. Retrieved from:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22190027/
  • Polydipsia: Why am I always thirsty? Retrieved from:  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318213#_noHeaderPrefixedContent

Disclaimer

The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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