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What Is Psychogenic Polydipsia?

By Clara Kedrek
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Psychogenic polydipsia is a condition in which patients have an uncontrollable urge to drink excess amounts of water. The term polydipsia refers to drinking too much water, and the term psychogenic refers to the fact that the desire to drink water stems from a mental disorder. Symptoms include increased thirst, increased urination, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and seizures. Treatment of the condition relies on restricting the affected patient’s intake of liquids. It is important to differentiate the condition from other diseases that can mimic it, as the treatments may vary.

Patients affected by psychogenic polydipsia typically have other coexisting psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression. The reason why patients affected by the disorder develop insatiable thirst is not well understood, but is thought to stem from the neurochemical imbalances associated with their underlying psychiatric conditions. Patients with the condition typically drink over 2.6 gallons (10 liters) of fluid a day.

The symptoms of psychogenic polydipsia can vary. Often patients try to hide the fact that they are drinking so much fluid, so other people around them might not notice that they are taking in so much water. If the condition goes on for an extended period, patients can develop a condition called hyponatremia, which is an electrolyte imbalance in which the concentration of sodium in the blood is too low. Symptoms of this can include nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, or even seizures. Other symptoms of psychogenic polydipsia include increased urination and psychiatric symptoms.

The process of diagnosing a patient with psychogenic polydipsia includes eliciting a detailed history, determining whether there are underlying psychiatric disorders, learning what medications the patient is on, and performing laboratory tests. Patients with the condition often develop low levels of sodium in the blood. They also produce copious amounts of dilute urine. The diagnosis is confirmed by doing a monitored water restriction test, in which patients are prohibited from drinking anything. If the concentration of sodium in the blood increases after forbidding patients from drinking, the diagnosis can be confirmed.

It is important to differentiate psychogenic polydipsia from other medical conditions that can cause similar laboratory abnormalities. The syndrome of inappropriate secretion of anti-diuretic hormone (SIADH) can also cause a patient to develop low levels of sodium in the blood. In this condition, however, there is typically a higher amount of sodium in the urine, and the hyponatremia does not typically resolve immediately on restriction access to fluids. Other conditions that can mimic psychogenic polydipsia include ecstasy intoxication, pseudohyponatremia, and exercise-associated hyponatremia.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Mar 22, 2013

I'm certain that psychogenic polydipsia can also be caused by Alzheimer's. My dog has Alzhemier's and her vet has recently also diagnosed her with compulsive water drinking. She wants to drink and urinate constantly.

The treatment was the same for my dog as it is for humans, limiting water consumption. I put away her water bowl at a certain time and don't allow her to drink after that.

By ysmina — On Mar 21, 2013

I have a relative who's staying at a psychiatric hospital. He suffers from schizophrenia. He was actually admitted because of psychogenic polydipsia.

He doesn't just drink water excessively, he basically drinks anything he gets his hands on. His family wasn't able to keep his drinking under control and he was close to experiencing water intoxication several times.

He's better off at the hospital because they limit the amount of water he has access to. Water intoxication is very dangerous and can cause death.

By candyquilt — On Mar 21, 2013

I thought I might be suffering from this condition but I don't think so because I don't have depression.

I do drink a lot of water but I have diabetes so I think that's why.

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