Excessive thirst, also known as polydipsia, may seem a common occurrence that we brush off without concern. However, it can be a subtle sign of a more significant health issue – diabetes. Let’s explore the reasons why untreated diabetes can cause excessive thirst, as well as other subtle symptoms of diabetes that you should be aware of for early detection and intervention.
Understanding the Link Between Diabetes and Excessive Thirst
Diabetes is a complex disease that affects many aspects of our bodies and health. This is why there are subtle symptoms, such as excessive thirst, that we often brush off as being “no big deal”. To comprehend why diabetes can lead to excessive thirst, it is essential to have a basic understanding of how the body maintains hydration and the role of insulin in this process.
Role of Insulin and Blood Sugar Regulation
Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is crucial in regulating blood sugar levels. After we eat, our bodies break down carbohydrates into glucose, the primary energy source for our cells. Insulin helps transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, which are utilized for energy. This process helps maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Impaired Insulin Function in Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease worldwide, is caused by poor lifestyle habits – primarily diet and exercise. Type 1 diabetes is genetic and has nothing to do with that person’s lifestyle (though lifestyle can still be used to help control blood sugar levels). In people with diabetes, the body’s ability to produce or effectively utilize insulin is impaired, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. This increased blood sugar concentration can lead to the following mechanisms causing excessive thirst (1):
Effect on Fluid Balance
- High blood sugar levels disrupt the body’s fluid balance. Typically, the kidneys filter excess glucose from the blood, and water follows this glucose into the urine. However, when blood sugar levels are consistently high, the kidneys cannot remove all the excess glucose effectively.
- As a result, the body attempts to draw more water from the tissues to dilute the excess glucose in the bloodstream. This leads to an imbalance and subsequent dehydration, triggering the sensation of excessive thirst.
- When blood sugar levels are elevated, the increased concentration of glucose in the bloodstream affects the osmotic balance in the body. Osmosis refers to the movement of water across a semipermeable membrane from an area of lower solute concentration (lower glucose levels) to an area of higher solute concentration (higher glucose levels).
- To restore the osmotic balance, water moves from inside the cells into the bloodstream, resulting in cellular dehydration. The body responds to this dehydration by triggering thirst as a mechanism to encourage fluid intake and replenish the lost water.
All of this is to say that removing excess glucose from your bloodstream requires a lot of water. For this reason, you will need to drink more as your kidneys are trying to filter out this excess glucose. This need for water triggers thirst and may or may not cause more frequent urination. If you are drinking a lot of water, you may urinate more. However, if you can’t keep up with the water demand, you will actually urinate less because your cells will be dehydrated.
It is important to note that thirst, or being more thirsty than usual, is not necessarily a sign of diabetes. Water is required for every single process in our bodies. Thirst can be a sign of a variety of illnesses. However, it can also just mean that you are thirsty. Did you have an active day? Did you do a hard workout that morning or the day before? Have you been out in the sun, wind, or other forms of extreme weather all day? Or, have you simply not drank enough water so far today? All of these things could be reasons why you are thirsty. If your thirst is continuous or seems misplaced, speak with your doctor. They can help you to get to the bottom of unexplained thirst.
Subtle Symptoms of Diabetes
Understanding excessive thirst as a subtle sign of potential diabetes is crucial, but it should not be the only symptom to watch for. Remember, the sooner you receive your diabetes diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatments and interventions to manage it. Here are ten more subtle symptoms that could indicate the presence of diabetes:
1. Fatigue and Increased Tiredness
Are you getting regular, good-quality sleep but still feeling sluggish and tired? High blood sugar levels impact the body’s ability to convert glucose into energy, leading to persistent fatigue and increased tiredness. (2)
2. Frequent Urination
On average, an adult should need to urinate 6 to 7 times in 24 hours. You typically shouldn’t need to go at nighttime (though there are exceptions). Four to 10 daily trips to the washroom is also fine, provided the person is healthy and happy. With diabetes, however, the kidneys work harder to eliminate excess glucose through urine, causing an increased frequency of urination, especially during the night. (3)
3. Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain
Our body weight fluctuates day to day and even morning to night. Significant changes with no explanation (i.e., habit changes) can signal that something is amiss. The inability to effectively utilize glucose for energy can result in unintended weight loss. In some cases, insulin resistance may lead to weight gain. (4)
4. Blurred Vision
Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect the shape of the lens in the eye, leading to blurred vision. If you are noticing sudden changes in your vision, go see your eye doctor. They can look at your lenses and tell you whether or not you should be talking to your doctor about your blood sugar.
5. Slow Healing of Wounds
Got a wound that just won’t heal? Diabetes can impair blood circulation and compromise immune function, resulting in delayed wound healing.
6. Recurring Infections
High blood sugar levels weaken the immune system, making individuals with diabetes more susceptible to infections. These can include urinary tract infections, skin infections, and oral infections.
7. Tingling or Numbness in Hands or Feet
Elevated blood sugar levels can damage the nerves, leading to peripheral neuropathy and causing tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation in the hands and feet. If you are experiencing these sensations seemingly randomly, go speak to your healthcare provider.
8. Increased Hunger
Despite consuming enough food, individuals with diabetes may experience persistent hunger due to the body’s inability to utilize glucose properly.
9. Changes in Skin Condition
Sometimes, the signs are hiding right before our very eyes. Diabetes can impact the skin, causing dryness, itching, and increased susceptibility to fungal or bacterial infections.
10. Mood Swings or Irritability
Blood sugar fluctuations can affect mood, leading to irritability, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, or feeling agitated. While there are other reasons to experience mood fluctuations, particularly for women, don’t just shoo these off as hormonal problems. They could be a sign of much more.
The Bottom Line
Excessive thirst, along with the ten subtle symptoms discussed above, can potentially indicate the presence of diabetes. Understanding the link between diabetes and excessive thirst is vital for early detection and intervention. If you experience any of these symptoms persistently, it is crucial to seek medical advice to undergo appropriate testing for diabetes.
Remember, diabetes is a serious condition that requires proper management and can lead to complications if left untreated. Regular check-ups with healthcare professionals, lifestyle changes, and appropriate medical interventions are key to managing diabetes effectively and maintaining overall health and well-being.
Keep Reading: Subtle Sign on Neck Could Be Indication of Diabetes, Doctor Says
- “Diabetes Thirst: The Reason You Feel So Parched.” Healthline. Noreen Iftikhar, MD. June 20, 2022.
- “10 Silent Symptoms of Diabetes.” Wayne UNC
- “Urinary Frequency – How Often Should You Pee?” Bladder and Bowel
- “12 Unusual Symptoms of Diabetes.” Healthline. Valencia Higuera. January 27, 2020.