• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: What is diabetes insipidus?

July 15, 2022
a smiling middle-aged woman, with her arms crossed, leaning on a railing

Diabetes insipidus is a rare disorder that causes an imbalance of fluids in the body. It's estimated to affect about 1 in 25,000 people worldwide, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.

While the terms "diabetes insipidus" and "diabetes mellitus" sound similar, they're not related. Diabetes mellitus — which involves high blood sugar levels and can occur as Type 1 or Type 2 — is common and often referred to simply as diabetes.

The fluid imbalance caused by diabetes insipidus leads you to produce large amounts of urine. It also makes you extremely thirsty, even if you have something to drink. This can lead to dehydration and an imbalance in minerals in your blood, such as sodium and potassium.

The cause depends on which of these types of diabetes insipidus you have:

  • Central diabetes insipidus
    Damage to the pituitary gland or hypothalamus from surgery, a tumor, head injury or illness can cause central diabetes insipidus by affecting the usual production, storage and release of a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone, or ADH. An inherited genetic disease also can cause this condition.
  • Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus
    Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus occurs when there's a defect in the structures in your kidneys that makes your kidneys unable to properly respond to anti-diuretic hormone. The defect may be due to an inherited genetic disorder or a chronic kidney disorder. Certain drugs, including lithium and antiviral medications such as foscarnet (Foscavir), also can cause nephrogenic diabetes insipidus.
  • Gestational diabetes insipidus
    Gestational diabetes insipidus is rare. It occurs only during pregnancy when an enzyme made by the placenta destroys anti-diuretic hormone in the mother.
  • Primary polydipsia
    Also known as dipsogenic diabetes insipidus, this condition can cause production of large amounts of diluted urine from drinking excessive amounts of fluids. Primary polydipsia can be caused by damage to the thirst-regulating mechanism in the hypothalamus. The condition also has been linked to mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

Treatment options depend on the type of diabetes insipidus you have and can include medication, modifying your water intake and following a low-salt diet.

Connect with others talking about diabetes insipidus and related disorders in the Diabetes & Endocrine System support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.