Better Blood Sugar Balance

Diabetes insipidus facts*

*Diabetes insipidus facts Medically Edited by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
  • Diabetes insipidus is not related to diabetes mellitus (type 1 and type 2 diabetes).
  • Diabetes insipidus is caused by problems related to the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) or its receptor and causes frequent urination.
  • There are four types of diabetes insipidus; 1) central diabetes insipidus, 2) nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, 3) dipsogenic diabetes insipidus, and 4) gestational diabetes insipidus.
  • The most common symptom of diabetes insipidus is frequent urination.
  • The diagnosis for diabetes insipidus is based on a series of tests (for example, urinalysis and fluid deprivation test).
  • The treatment for diabetes insipidus depends on the type of diabetes insipidus.
  • Diabetes can lead to chronic kidney disease.
  • Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure in the US.

What is diabetes insipidus, and what are the symptoms of the condition?

Diabetes insipidus (DI) is a rare disease that causes frequent urination. The large volume of urine is diluted, mostly water. To make up for lost water, a person with diabetes insipidus may feel the need to drink large amounts and is likely to urinate frequently, even at night, which can disrupt sleep and, on occasion, cause bedwetting. Because of the excretion of abnormally large volumes of dilute urine, people with diabetes insipidus may quickly become dehydrated if they do not drink enough water. Children with diabetes insipidus may be irritable or listless and may have fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Milder forms of diabetes insipidus can be managed by drinking enough water, usually between 2 and 2.5 liters a day. Diabetes insipidus severe enough to endanger a person's health is rare.

Diabetes Insipidus Definition

Excessive urination and extreme thirst as a result of inadequate output of the pituitary hormone ADH (antidiuretic hormone, also called vasopressin) or the lack of the normal response by the kidney to ADH.

There are two types of diabetes insipidus -- central and nephrogenic. Central diabetes insipidus is a lack of ADH production and is due to damage to the pituitary gland or hypothalamus where ADH is produced. Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus is lack of response of the kidney to the fluid-conserving action of ADH. Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus can be due to diseases of the kidney (such as polycystic kidney disease), certain drugs (such as lithium), and can also occur an inherited disorder.

In both central and nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, patients excrete extraordinarily large volumes of very dilute urine. They feel thirsty and drink very large amounts of water to compensate for the water they lose in the urine. The main danger with diabetes insipidus comes when fluid intake does not keep pace with urine output, resulting in dehydration and high blood sodium.

What is the difference between diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus

Diabetes insipidus should not be confused with diabetes mellitus (DM), which results from insulin deficiency or resistance leading to high blood glucose, also called blood sugar. Diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus are unrelated, although they can have similar signs and symptoms, like excessive thirst and excessive urination.

Diabetes mellitus is far more common than diabetes insipidus and receives more news coverage. Diabetes mellitus has two main forms, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes insipidus is a different form of illness altogether.

How is fluid in the body normally regulated?

The body has a complex system for balancing the volume and composition of body fluids. The kidneys remove extra body fluids from the bloodstream. These fluids are stored in the bladder as urine. If the fluid regulation system is working properly, the kidneys make less urine to conserve fluid when water intake is decreased or water is lost, for example, through sweating or diarrhea. The kidneys also make less urine at night when the body's metabolic processes are slower.

Picture of the Hypothalamus
The hypothalamus makes antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which directs the kidneys to make less urine.

To keep the volume and composition of body fluids balanced, the rate of fluid intake is governed by thirst, and the rate of excretion is governed by the production of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also called vasopressin. This hormone is made in the hypothalamus, a small gland located in the brain. ADH is stored in the nearby pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream when necessary. When ADH reaches the kidneys, it directs them to concentrate the urine by reabsorbing some of the filtered water to the bloodstream and therefore make less urine. Diabetes insipidus occurs when this precise system for regulating the kidneys' handling of fluids is disrupted.

What are the types of diabetes insipidus?

Central Diabetes Insipidus

The most common form of serious diabetes insipidus, central diabetes insipidus, results from damage to the pituitary gland, which disrupts the normal storage and release of ADH. Damage to the pituitary gland can be caused by different diseases as well as by head injuries, neurosurgery, or genetic disorders. To treat the ADH deficiency that results from any kind of damage to the hypothalamus or pituitary, a synthetic hormone called desmopressin can be taken by an injection, a nasal spray, or a pill. While taking desmopressin, a person should drink fluids only when thirsty and not at other times. The drug prevents water excretion, and water can build up now that the kidneys are making less urine and are less responsive to changes in body fluids.

Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus

Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus results when the kidneys are unable to respond to ADH. The kidneys' ability to respond to ADH can be impaired by drugs-like lithium, for example-and by chronic disorders including polycystic kidney disease, sickle cell disease, kidney failure, partial blockage of the ureters, and inherited genetic disorders. Sometimes the cause of nephrogenic diabetes insipidus is never discovered.

Desmopressin will not work for this form of diabetes insipidus. Instead, a person with nephrogenic diabetes insipidus may be given hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) or indomethacin. HCTZ is sometimes combined with another drug called amiloride. The combination of HCTZ and amiloride is sold under the brand name Moduretic. Again, with this combination of drugs, one should drink fluids only when thirsty and not at other times.

Dipsogenic Diabetes insipidus

Dipsogenic diabetes insipidus is caused by a defect in or damage to the thirst mechanism, which is located in the hypothalamus. This defect results in an abnormal increase in thirst and fluid intake that suppresses ADH secretion and increases urine output. Desmopressin or other drugs should not be used to treat dipsogenic diabetes insipidus because they may decrease urine output but not thirst and fluid intake. This fluid overload can lead to water intoxication, a condition that lowers the concentration of sodium in the blood and can seriously damage the brain. Scientists have not yet found an effective treatment for dipsogenic diabetes insipidus.

Gestational Diabetes Insipidus

Gestational diabetes insipidus occurs only during pregnancy and results when an enzyme made by the placenta destroys ADH in the mother. The placenta is the system of blood vessels and other tissue that develops with the fetus. The placenta allows exchange of nutrients and waste products between mother and fetus.

Most cases of gestational diabetes insipidus can be treated with desmopressin. In rare cases, however, an abnormality in the thirst mechanism causes gestational diabetes insipidus, and desmopressin should not be used.

How is diabetes insipidus diagnosed?

Because diabetes mellitus is more common and because diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus have similar symptoms, a health care provider may suspect that a patient with diabetes insipidus has diabetes mellitus. But testing should make the diagnosis clear.

A doctor must determine which type of diabetes insipidus is involved before proper treatment can begin. Diagnosis is based on a series of tests, including urinalysis and a fluid deprivation test.

Urinalysis is the physical and chemical examination of urine. The urine of a person with diabetes insipidus will be less concentrated. Therefore, the salt and waste concentrations are low and the amount of water excreted is high. A physician evaluates the concentration of urine by measuring how many particles are in a kilogram of water or by comparing the weight of the urine with an equal volume of distilled water.

A fluid deprivation test helps determine whether diabetes insipidus is caused by one of the following:

  • excessive intake of fluid
  • a defect in ADH production
  • a defect in the kidneys' response to ADH

This test measures changes in body weight, urine output, and urine composition when fluids are withheld. Sometimes measuring blood levels of ADH during this test is also necessary.

In some patients, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain may be necessary as well.

For more information about diabetes insipidus

The Diabetes Insipidus Foundation, Inc.
Patient Support and Information
Mary Evans-Lee
3742 Woodland Drive
Columbus, GA 31907
Phone: 706-323-7576
Email: info@diabetesinsipidus.org
Internet: www.diabetesinsipidus.org

The Diabetes Insipidus and Related Disorders Network
535 Echo Court
Saline, MI 48176-1270
Email: gsmayes@aol.com
Internet: web.archive.org/web/20021201133912/members.aol.com/ruudh/dipage1.htm?mtbrand=AOL_US

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
P.O. Box 1968
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
Phone: 1-800-999-6673 (voicemail) or 203-744-0100
Email: orphan@rarediseases.org
Internet: www.rarediseases.org

Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus Foundation
Main Street
P.O. Box 1390
Eastsound, WA 98245
Phone: 1-888-376-6343
Fax: 1-888-376-6356
Email: info@ndif.org
Internet: www.ndif.org

SOURCE: National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institutes of Health. Diabetes Insipidus.

Last Editorial Review: 3/28/2012

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Reviewed on 3/28/2012
References
SOURCE: National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institutes of Health. Diabetes Insipidus.

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