Thirsty

It’s normal to feel thirsty after eating spicy foods or performing strenuous exercise, especially when it’s hot. But sometimes your thirst is stronger than usual and continues after you drink. You may even experience blurred vision and fatigue. These are symptoms of excessive thirst, which may signal a serious underlying medical condition.

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Causes may include:

  • eating salty or spicy foods
  • illness
  • strenuous exercise
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • burns
  • significant loss of blood
  • certain prescription medications, including lithium, diuretics, and certain antipsychotics

Frequent excessive thirst or thirst that can’t be quenched can be symptoms of serious medical conditions, such as:

  • Dehydration: This occurs when you lack the proper amount of fluids for your body to function properly. Severe dehydration is life-threatening, especially for infants and young children. Dehydration can be caused by illness, profuse sweating, too much urine output, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Diabetes mellitus: Excessive thirst can be caused by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). It’s often one of the first noticeable symptoms of this type of diabetes.
  • Diabetes insipidus: This form of diabetes occurs when your body can’t regulate fluids properly. This causes an imbalance of water in your body, leading to excessive urination and thirst.
  • Dipsogenic diabetes insipidus: This condition is caused by a defect in the thirst mechanism, resulting in increased thirst and liquid intake.
  • Heart, liver, or kidney failure
  • Sepsis: This is a dangerous illness caused by a severe inflammatory reaction from infection with bacteria or other germs.

When you try to quench excessive thirst, it’s possible to drink too much fluid. Taking in more water than you expel is called overhydration. This can occur when you drink too much liquid to compensate for fluid loss. It can also occur if you have disorders in the kidney, liver, or heart.

Overhydration can cause a severely low blood sodium level that could result in confusion and seizures, especially if it develops quickly.

Thirst is the feeling of needing to drink something. It occurs whenever the body is dehydrated for any reason. Any condition that can result in a loss of body water can lead to thirst or excessive thirst. For this reason, thirst is a characteristic symptoms of certain medical conditions, most notably diabetes mellitus. Thirst may be accompanied by other signs of dehydration such as

  • decreased urine output
  • reduced sweating and tear production
  • muscle cramps
  • weakness
  • lightheadedness
  • and nausea. 

Dehydration and thirst may be minor or severe, depending upon the amount of water lost by the body. Polydipsia is the medical term that refers to increased or excessive thirst.

To help diagnose the reason for your excessive, unresolved thirst, your doctor will ask you for a complete medical history, including any previously diagnosed conditions. Be prepared to list all of your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements.

Some questions your doctor may ask include:

  • How long have you been aware of your symptoms?
  • Are you also urinating more than usual?
  • Did your symptoms begin slowly or suddenly?
  • Does your thirst increase or decrease during certain times of the day?
  • Have you made dietary or other lifestyle changes?
  • Has your appetite for food been affected?
  • Have you gained or lost weight?
  • Have you recently had an injury or burn?
  • Are you experiencing any bleeding or swelling?
  • Have you had a fever?
  • Have you been perspiring heavily?

In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may order blood and urine tests to help provide a diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • blood glucose test
  • blood count and blood differential tests
  • urinalysis, urine osmolality, and urine electrolyte tests
  • serum electrolyte and serum osmolality tests

Depending on the test results, your doctor may refer you to a specialist.

Measure all fluids carefully in a measuring cup. Record your daily fluid intake each time you drink or eat foods that are liquid at room temperature.

  • Salty foods make you thirsty so limit sodium intake to help control thirst.
  • Drink your beverages ice cold. They will be more refreshing and will quench your thirst.
  • Be aware of hidden liquid foods like gelatin, ice, soup, gravy and watermelon. Remember to count foods liquid at room temperature as part of your fluid intake.
  • Eat kidney-friendly diet fruits ice cold between meals.
  • When your mouth is dry, rinse it with mouthwash or cold water (remember to spit it out).
  • Spend the hottest part of the day in an air-conditioned room if possible. Staying cool will help reduce your thirst. Try wearing a wet bandana around your neck or on your head if you must be out in the heat.
  • Try to take your medications with your mealtime liquids. Some pills are easy to swallow in a spoonful of applesauce or other moist food.
  • Slowly sip allowed beverages to savor the liquid longer. Use a smaller cup or glass.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your glucose in good control. High blood sugar will increase your thirst.
  • If you are on hemodialysis, set your goal to gain no more than 2-4 pounds between treatments, or 1-2 pounds per day (or the goal established by your dietitian). Two cups of liquid equals one pound of fluid gain.

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