What Causes Diabetes Insipidus?

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I found it is important to discuss what causes diabetes insipidus even though this site mainly focuses on diabetes melitus.

When our grandson was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes melitus, I started researching everything I could find that was diabetes-related and amazingly that led me to the formation of this website.

Like many people, I was completely unaware of this debilitating condition until recently.

I often find myself heading down many ‘rabbit holes‘ when researching the articles I chose to write, and that is actually how I discovered diabetes insipidus.

I learned that diabetes insipidus shares similar symptoms to diabetes melitus type 1 and type 2.

But it is also very different and requires a totally different treatment plan.

Let’s first examine…

What is Diabetes Insipidus?

Diabetes insipidus is a rare disorder that occurs when a person’s kidneys pass an unusually high amount of dilute and odourless urine.

Most people pass between 1 to 2 quarts of urine each day. People with diabetes insipidus typically pass between 3 to 20 quarts a day which results in dehydration and extreme thirst.

The difference between diabetes melitus and diabetes insipidus

Diabetes insipidus and diabetes melitus type 1 and type 2 may sound similar but they are very different and the only similarity is that it makes you pee a lot and you become excessively thirsty.

In diabetes melitus type 1, the body’s immune system attacks and kills the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas making the person unable to produce the insulin their body requires to use the glucose from their food for energy causing blood sugar levels to rise.

In diabetes melitus type 2, the person is capable of producing insulin, they just can’t use it effectively again causing blood sugar levels to rise.What Causes Diabetes Insipidus? - unable to balance fluid levels

However, with diabetes insipidus, the hormones that help your body balance liquids no longer work, and blood glucose levels remain normal.

Diabetes insipidus is quite rare and only 1 in 25,000 may get this condition.

While diabetes melitus types 1 and 2 is on the rise globally and is far more common affecting around 100 million Americans.

Symptoms of diabetes melitus

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes melitus the symptoms are the same the mosts common include:

  • increased thirst
  • increased hunger (especially after eating)
  • dry mouth
  • frequent urination
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • slow-healing cuts or sore dry itchy skin
  • frequent yeast infections or urinary tract infections
  • Symptoms of diabetes insipidus

Symptoms of diabetes insipidus can include:

  • extreme thirst
  • excessive urination
  • waking to pee a lot at night
  • preference for cold drinks
  • dehydration
  • weakness
  • muscle pains
  • irritability

If you are dehydrated you may also experience:

  • fatigue
  • sluggishness
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • nausea

If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms please seek prompt medical advice.

What causes diabetes insipidus?

Our bodies make a hormone called vasopressin in the hypothalamus region of the brain and stores it in the pituitary gland.

Vasopressin is also called antidiuretic hormone or ADH.

It is the job of the vasopressin to tell your kidneys to hold on to water, which concentrates your urine.

When we are thirsty or slightly dehydrated, our vasopressin levels go up, causing our kidneys to absorb more water and put out concentrated urine.

Once we have had enough to drink, our vasopressin levels fall and the urine excreted is clear and undiluted.

There are different forms of diabetes insipidus, and regardless of which form you have the result is your kidneys can’t keep water, so even if you are dehydrated they will put out a lot of pale unconcentrated urine.

In 1% to 2% of cases, changes in the genes inherited from parents have increased the likelihood of developing diabetes insipidus.

Types of diabetes insipidus

Central diabetes insipidus

This occurs when damage to the hypothalamus or pituitary gland affects your body’s ability to make or distribute vasopressin. Your kidneys respond by removing too much fluid from the body and you urinate much more frequently.

This damage can be the result of:

  • tumour
  • head injury
  • aneurysm ( a blocked or bulging artery)
  • diseases such as Langerhans cell histiocytosis
  • infection
  • inflammation
  • surgery

Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus

You can develop nephrogenic diabetes insipidus when your kidneys fail to respond to vasopressin and remove too much fluid from your bloodstream. It is not always known why this happens but some possible causes may include:

  • a blocked urinary tract
  • chronic kidney disease
  • high levels of calcium in the blood
  • low potassium levels
  • certain medications (Lithium)

Dipsogenic diabetes insipidus

Also known as Primary Polydipsia, occurs when your body has trouble controlling thirst.

When you drink, the liquid lowers levels of vasopressin, causing you to urinate more.

This can also be caused by damage to either the hypothalamus or pituitary gland from:

  • a tumour
  • head injury
  • infection
  • inflammation
  • surgery
  • certain medications
  • mental health problems

It is also possible to develop dipsoginic diabetes insipidus only during pregnancy. Sometimes the placenta creates an enzyme that breaks down vasopressin. Other women may produce more prostaglandin which makes their kidneys less sensitive to nasopressin. In most cases of gestational diabetes insipidus, symptoms are mild and disappear postpartum, however, it may return in a subsequent pregnancy.

Complications of diabetes insipidus

Uncontrolled diabetes insipidus can increase the chances of developing complications such as:

  • dehydration, because your body is having trouble holding onto fluid there is a higher risk of dehydration
  • electrolyte imbalance, losing too much fluid can cause electrolyte levels to rise causing headaches, fatigue, irritability, and muscle pain
  • lack of sleep, due to frequent waking to urinate at night (nocturia)creating a much less restful nightWhat Causes Diabetes Insipidus? - nasal spray


Beyond increasing your fluid intake, treatment is largely dependent upon which type you have.

Central diabetes insipidus

You will take medications such as desmopressin (DDAVP) or vasopressin (Pitressin), usually in the form of a nasal spray. Other treatments may help these drugs work more efficiently.

Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus

This can be more difficult to treat. If it’s caused by drugs, stop taking that medication may help.

Other medications may ease the symptoms. Typically taking diuretics makes your pee more, in this case, they may help you make less urine.

Sometimes it can go away by treating the cause.

Dipsogenic diabetes insipidus

There is no treatment for this condition.

However, you may be able to ease symptoms by sucking on ice chips of sours candy to help moisten your mouth, increase saliva flow, and lower the desire to drink.

If you wake frequently to urinate through the night some medication may help.

Gestational diabetes insipidus

You may take medication during pregnancy.

This usually goes away soon after delivery.

Final Thoughts

As we have learned what causes diabetes insipidus is largely dependent upon which type you have.

We have learned that diabetes insipidus is very different from diabetes melitus type 1 or type 2.

The only similarities would be excessive thirst and frequent urination.

Diabetes insipidus is an extremely rare condition and does not increase blood glucose levels which is very different from diabetes melitus.

There are several different types of diabetes insipidus and all but one can be effectively treated.

Dipsogenic diabetes insipidus can not be treated but you may be able to ease symptoms by sucking on ice chips or sour candies.

Gestational diabetes insipidus will often go away postpartum.

I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.

Until this article had you ever heard of diabetes insipidus?

Have you experienced diabetes insipidus?

Please leave your helpful tips in the comment section below.

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5 thoughts on “What Causes Diabetes Insipidus?”

  1. I never heard of the diabetes insipidus before but I have learnt a great deal of information reading your article. Because it’s a very rare condition, what different tests would someone require presenting these symptoms such as excessive thirst and frequent loo visits?

    Wishing you best of health to your grandson. I hope his diabetes is managed effectively, since his grand parent is so knowledgeable and a keen researcher in this field. 🙂

    I will share your article with a family member who is a diabetic for information.

    Many thanks for this valuable article on diabetes insipidus.

    • Thanks for dropping by Habib and taking the time to comment. Yes, diabetes insipidus is rare. If someone were to have any of the symptoms mentioned in the article I would recommend a visit to your doctor to be tested for either diabetes insipidus or diabetes melitus as the symptoms can be similar in the early stages. Our grandsons’ type 1 diabetes melitus is managed quite effectively. While we spend a fair bit of time researching all things diabetes-related so does his mother, our daughter. She is very diligent in following the diabetes care plan Alex’s doctor has set forth for him. Thank you for sharing this article, when it comes t effective diabetes management, education is key. Take care.

  2. Phew, it’s hard to see, let alone remember, all those variations. When I look at your lists of symptoms, I don’t see many differences. Why do they call those diseases Diabetes if they are different?

    A friend of mine was recently describing Alzheimer’s saying they call it Diabetes 3 nowadays. I don’t know if it’s true, I had never heard it before. As a layman, it is increasingly difficult to figure it out, don’t you think?

    • Thanks for stopping by Hannie. I agree it is very confusing with so many different diseases with similar symptoms and by calling them such similar names. I guess that is why we need to see our doctors rather than diagnosing ourselves.
      I had recently just heard of them calling Alzheimer’s “Diabetes 3” but really don’t see why they would. My mother had both Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s and I could easily tell the difference between her fading from Alzheimer’s and the energy drop from low blood sugars. My father couldn’t tell the difference. He would often tell me to “look she is lost in her own world”, I would look at her and immediately know to get her some orange juice and snack to raise her blood sugar levels. To be fair many times she was lost in her own world but when that happened she was often behaving like a happy little girl so to see her still and silent was clearly a telltale sign to me.
      I will certainly look into why they call it diabetes 3. Who knows that may be another article. Thanks, Hannie.

      • I agree, Deborah, it only adds to the confusion if lay people are giving names to diseases as well. The main reason he told me about this was he was trying to get me into a carnivore diet, eating only meat and nothing else. As I am an almost vegetarian for over 40 years, this was a task he didn’t succeed at, obviously. 🙂
        But who knows where you come up with in your research. I’ll surely see it when it’s ready!


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