Diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus might share a name and have some similar symptoms, but they are two very different diseases. They also require two very different treatments. Because diabetes mellitus involves blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, it is important for most people to use a blood sugar monitoring device daily and eat low glycemic foods that won’t spike their blood sugar levels.
For diabetes insipidus, it isn’t blood sugar that is the problem, but blood water levels. The body produces a hormone called Vasopressin that is supposed to control how much water the kidneys take out of the blood stream. Converted to urine, these fluids flush out the wastes that the kidneys filter out. When this system malfunctions, a person’s thirst increases because the body thinks it needs more water to flush out impurities.
By paying attention to the specific signs and symptoms of each disease, it becomes possible to discover which is the problem and find an appropriate solution to the issue. Here are the common symptoms and what they mean for each.
For diabetes insipidus, excessive fatigue occurs because of an overall lack of hydration. It may also be caused by an electrolyte imbalance. For diabetes mellitus, excessive fatigue generally occurs because blood sugar levels are too low or too high.
This symptom occurs in diabetes insipidus because the body senses a lack of Vasopressin and so it demands more fluids because it thinks it needs them. For diabetes mellitus, the excessive thirst occurs because of excessive glucose levels that need to be expelled from the body. Urine for those with diabetes insipidus is clear and transparent, while with diabetes mellitus, it is yellow, pale, and often cloudy.
With diabetes insipidus, the blurred vision typically occurs when there is a chronic lack of hydration or as a result of a head injury that became the foundation of disease development. In diabetes mellitus, this is a common side effect of their being too much glucose within the body.
How Can the Two Be Differentiated From Each Other?
The most common form of diabetes mellitus in the world today is Type II diabetes. It occurs when the body develops a certain insulin resistance or does not make enough insulin any more to counter the blood sugar levels that are occurring. The theories as to why this happen are wide and varied, but they all have one thing in common: the signs and symptoms of Type II diabetes occur very slowly and build up over time.
This is the easiest way to distinguish between diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus. Diabetes insipidus symptoms occur rapidly and immediately, especially when the central version of this disease occurs from an injury, tumor growth, or a surgery. It can also be caused genetically and present at birth, causing immediate symptoms.
Type I diabetes can also occur very rapidly and happens at any age, but most commonly occurs in children or young adults. The symptoms are because of an insulin deficiency and unlike diabetes insipidus, reactions are caused when foods or sugary beverages are consumed instead of a generic need for something to drink.
Why Are They Both Called “Diabetes” If They Are So Different?
The names of the disease are a throwback to how doctors initially diagnosed them both. Diabetes was initially tracked by examining the quality of the urine that a person produced. Because urine can naturally become cloudy or clear through what a person eats or drinks, doctors needed to determine if there was high sugar content or no substantive content to the urine.
What would they do? They would actually taste the urine to determine what the sugar content of it happened to be. Diabetes mellitus would be the diagnosis if the urine was noticeably sugar in texture or flavor. Diabetes insipidus would be the diagnosis if there was no flavor to the urine at all. That’s how the disease got its name, in fact: insipid refers to a lack of flavor.
They both received the diabetes name because they were two ends of the extreme from what normal urine would be. Although a doctor will probably just send in urine for a laboratory test today instead of setting up a nice cocktail with it, the disease names of stuck.
Why Is Diabetes Mellitus Known More Than Diabetes Insipidus?
This is likely because of how prevalent diabetes mellitus is when compared to diabetes insipidus. Diabetes insipidus has an incident rate of about 1 in 25,000 people. In comparison, about 8 people out of every 1,000 will develop diabetes mellitus. If 100,000 people were sampled, there would be about 4 people in total diagnosed with diabetes insipidus, but more than 700 people diagnosed with diabetes mellitus.
There is also the fact that the dangers of diabetes mellitus are much greater than diabetes insipidus. Type I and Type II diabetes can cause severe, immediate symptoms that require immediate treatment. Lifestyle habits can even increase insulin absorption, such as taking a hot shower, which can create its own set of problems after a meal. One mistake can be potentially deadly. For diabetes insipidus, the dangers are remote and only come after persistent mismanagement. Even dehydration can still be managed over time instead of immediately like a blood sugar emergency.
What Is the Greatest Danger of These Diseases?
For diabetes insipidus, the greatest danger is dehydration or over-hydration. People who feel like they are constantly thirsty may drink water far too often and create the conditions for water intoxication to be present. When properly managed, however, fluid levels can be maintained. Management occurs through diuretics, lifestyle changes, and sometimes through the use of Desmopressin, which is a synthetic version of the hormone Vasopressin which the body naturally produces.
For diabetes mellitus, the greatest danger occurs when blood sugar levels get too high or too low. High blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage, high blood pressure, and harden blood vessel walls. Blood sugar levels that are too low can lead to seizures, brain damage, and even a coma. Contact emergency medical services immediately if you suspect blood sugar levels that are too high or too low and cannot be appropriately managed in that moment.
This is why if either disease is suspected because the common signs and symptoms are being experience, a doctor’s appointment should be made immediately. This may be with a family doctor or with a specialist. That way the best possible outcome of either disease can be experienced by the individual who is suffering from bothersome symptoms.
What Are the Outcomes?
There is no cure for either diabetes insipidus or diabetes mellitus. The goal of a treatment plan is to relieve symptoms and prevent dangerous downgrades in health. Both diseases often come with a recommendation of healthier eating habits, smart exercise, and weight management. When the diagnosis is for Type II diabetes, exercise and healthy eating can actually eliminate the symptoms of the disease and reduce or remove the need for medication, but the disease will still be present in the body if the good habits should change.
For those with mild cases of diabetes insipidus, the recommendation is often to manage the symptoms until they increase or become extremely bothersome. This often means drinking when thirsty until satisfied and limiting exercise activities in environments that are excessively warm. Supplements for electrolyte balance might also be recommended.
In cases of Type I diabetes, ongoing management must happen to maintain a good quality of life. Regular insulin injections, an insulin pump, and other treatment options happen regularly. Regular medical checkups to monitor blood circulation to the extremities is often necessary and any cuts or scrapes to fingers, toes, and the feet are closely monitored to prevent infection because the body’s reactions to invading germs is typically reduced with this form of diabetes insipidus.
Most patients will go on to live long, fulfilling lives with either diabetes insipidus or diabetes mellitus. Those diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, however, may experience up to a 10 year drop in total life expectancy when compared to diabetes insipidus, which has no impact on a person’s life expectancy when treated or managed properly.
Do You Suspect Diabetes Insipidus or Diabetes Mellitus?
If any of the signs or symptoms of the disease are noticed, then seek treatment for them immediately and then work to develop a long-term treatment plan. There may be a lot of similarities between diabetes insipidus and diabetes melltus, but the treatment plans take very different approaches for one simple reason: they are very different diseases, even if they share a name.
Take this information about diabetes insipidus vs mellitus to your next scheduled appointment, bring someone along, and ask questions about the information found here. Together you and your doctor can develop an effective treatment plan for either disease that will help you get your life back on track.