Diabetes Insipidus: How to Recognize and Treat it

diabetes insipidus

Let’s go ahead and quell your nagging question right away: no, diabetes insipidus is not the same as diabetes mellitus. There’s definitely a difference. Diabetes mellitus is most familiar to us as type 1 and type 2 diabetes. And it’s all the rage these days. That is to say, type 2 diabetes is the one that is plaguing Western countries due to various factors such as our absurdly fast-paced lifestyles and overly processed foods with zero nutritional value. That kind of diabetes is related to insulin levels or what we usually refer to as blood sugar levels.

Diabetes insipidus, on the other hand, is the lesser known condition in the diabetic family tree. While diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus have some similar symptoms like excessive thirst and urination, they are indeed quite different. In fact, diabetes insipidus is a fairly uncommon condition that causes a water imbalance in the body. A water imbalance doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? Is this really that big of a deal? Yes, including some dangerous complications!

Diabetes Insipidus Symptoms: What to look For

The Mayo Clinic explains that the two main symptoms of diabetes insipidus are extreme thirst and excessive amounts of diluted urine. They say that healthy adults will urinate about three quarts per day, but with diabetes insipidus, you can urinate up to 16 quarts in a day if you’re drinking a lot of fluid. Bottom line: if you are experiencing these symptoms, you need to get to a doctor immediately so they can rule out any other conditions, such as diabetes mellitus. Your physician will also work with you to get your body back to actually absorbing fluids for healthy hydration. We’ll come back to that shortly because that causes other serious problems as well.

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may even find yourself needing to urinate frequently throughout the night and possibly wetting the bed. Mayo Clinic adds, “Infants and young children who have diabetes insipidus may have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Unexplained fussiness or inconsolable crying
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Delayed growth
  • Weight loss

Dangerous Complications: More Things to Look For

As you can imagine, if you are losing 16 quarts of fluid per day, this can cause dehydration. It doesn’t matter that you’re drinking an excess of fluids if you’re losing all of it. If you have diabetes insipidus but have not yet received a diagnosis, or if you are not monitoring your condition, you’re likely to experience some serious dehydration symptoms, such as:

  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • headache
  • dry mouth and lips
  • sunken features (particularly the eyes)
  • confusion and irritability

Dehydration can also lead to fever, rapid heart rate, and unhealthy weight loss. But another serious complication of diabetes insipidus is the threat of electrolyte imbalance. One nursing journal explains why this is so dangerous: “If too much water is lost from your body, the concentration of other substances, such as sodium (salt), can get dangerously high. Normally, salt helps to control the pressure and amount of fluid which passes between your blood and body tissues. However, if there is too much salt in your body, it can cause you to become lethargic (lacking in energy) and confused. In severe cases, dehydration and high salt levels can cause fits, and eventually, a state of coma.”

Causes & Treatment Options

As you can see, diabetes insipidus is nothing to mess around with. Remember that it is not a common condition, but it’s helpful to know what causes it in the first place. John’s Hopkins explains, “Diabetes insipidus can be caused by several conditions, including the following:

  • malfunctioning hypothalamus
  • damage to hypothalamus or pituitary gland during surgery
  • brain injury
  • tumor
  • tuberculosis
  • blockage in the arteries leading to the brain
  • encephalitis
  • meningitis
  • sarcoidosis (a rare inflammation of the lymph nodes and other tissues throughout the body)

Thankfully, these are not exactly average conditions for anyone. Equally positive is that treating diabetes insipidus is pretty simple. John’s Hopkins adds that “treatment may include modified antidiuretic hormone drugs administered either as injections, pills, or intranasal spray.” But ultimately, “treating diabetes insipidus depends on what is causing the disease. Specific treatment for diabetes insipidus will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

As you can see, as long as you and your healthcare practitioner are aware of the condition, as well as monitoring and/or treating it, then you’re in good shape. The biggest problem is when you’re dealing with this condition and have no idea what’s happening. The easiest way to verify it, though, is by those two main symptoms of unquenchable thirst and excessive urination. Have you had experience with this uncommon condition? Tell us how you discovered it what treatment option has worked best for you.