Excessive thirst and what it means: Symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

Excessive thirst can be a sign of Type 1 diabetes. Here are the symptoms you should know

The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can be subtle. Take thirst, for example. If you find yourself reaching for the water bottle more than usual — it could be a sign of something more serious. 

Type 1 diabetes is also called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. It can develop at any time, but typically this condition presents before age 40 and usually in children or adolescents. In people with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little to no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use sugar (glucose).

“When your body can’t produce insulin, sugar builds up in the blood,” said Joshua H. Brandon, M.D., family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates. “Over time, this does damage to your organs, tissues and blood vessels.”

Type 1 diabetes symptoms

Excessive thirst is a common symptom of diabetes. Here are some other typical signs:

  • Increased thirst (the medical term is polydipsia) even with increased water intake
  • Excessive urination
  • Feeling very hungry
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Feeling irritable or having other mood changes
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Having blurry vision

Causes of Type 1 diabetes

Researchers do not know the exact cause of diabetes. In many cases, the body’s own immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses — destroys the insulin-producing (islet) cells in the pancreas.

“We know genetics and environmental factors play a role,” Dr. Brandon said. 

Blood testing for diabetes and more

A1C testing is available at Norton Prompt Care clinics as well as with your primary care provider. With your provider’s lab order, you also may use our drive-thru lab option at Norton Healthcare Express Services.

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Why does Type 1 diabetes cause increased thirst?

If your blood sugar level is high and there is not enough insulin to reduce the amount of sugar in the blood, the kidneys will work harder to filter and absorb the sugar. In order to flush sugar out of the body, the kidneys pull fluid from your tissue. You then will pass the sugar through your urine.

“That’s why we see symptoms such as dry mouth, excessive thirst and frequent urination associated with diabetes,” Dr. Brandon said.

Complications of Type 1 diabetes

Left untreated, Type 1 diabetes can cause:

  • Heart disease or blood vessel disease. This includes coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke, narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure.
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy). Too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia) can damage the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that feed the nerves. This often happens in the legs, since the heart has to work hard to pump the blood to the extremities. Poorly controlled blood sugar can cause you to lose all sense of feeling in certain parts of your body. 
  • Kidney damage (nephropathy). Millions of tiny blood vessels in the kidneys keep waste from entering the blood. Diabetes can damage these blood vessels. Over time, this can lead to kidney failure or end-stage kidney disease that can’t be reversed. Advanced kidney disease is treated by filtering the blood with a machine (dialysis) or with a kidney transplant.
  • Eye damage (diabetic retinopathy). Diabetes can damage any of the body’s blood vessels, including those of the retina (part of the eye that senses light). Left untreated, this may cause blindness. 
  • Foot damage. Nerve damage and poor blood flow in the feet increases the risk of complications. You gradually can lose feeling in the feet, so you don’t notice cuts and blisters. These can become serious infections. Very severe infections may result in removal of toes, feet, or parts of the leg (amputation).

Diabetes also can be an issue for pregnant people. If the person has a high blood sugar level, it can be dangerous for both parent and baby. Uncontrolled high blood sugar can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects. 

How is diabetes diagnosed?

A simple blood test can tell your primary care provider if you have diabetes. This test is called an A1C test. It measures the average amount of glucose in your blood over about the past three months. A1C results fall into normal, prediabetic, and diabetic ranges. 

  • Normal A1C level is below 5.7%.
  • Prediabetes is between 5.7% to 6.4%.
  • A level of 6.5% or more indicates diabetes.

Seeing your provider every year for a general checkup that includes bloodwork will help your health care team establish a baseline for you and ensure you get your A1C level tested. Drastic changes in your A1C from year to year can be a sign that you are headed toward prediabetes or diabetes. 

“If you have some of these symptoms that get worse over time — excessive thirst, dry mouth, excessive urination or unexplained weight loss — see your general physician for bloodwork,” Dr. Brandon said. “Or if you have a parent or sibling with any type of diabetes, remember that is a risk factor. It is easier to treat diabetes the sooner it’s caught.”

Routine bloodwork to determine your diabetes status typically is covered by most insurance plans. You can make an appointment online via Norton MyChart. Blood test results usually are returned from the lab in a few days.

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