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| 13 August, 2017

Do you know why you’re often thirsty?

Image used for illustrative purpose.
A man pours water on his face to cool off from hot weather in Skopje, Macedonia July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Image used for illustrative purpose. A man pours water on his face to cool off from hot weather in Skopje, Macedonia July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

When the body is short of water, it often signifies this by way of thirst.

By Enyeribe Ejiogu

Water makes up more than 70 per cent of the body weight. It is the medium in which all physiological processes of the body take place. No metabolic reactions can occur without the involvement of water. The liver which is one of the largest organs in the body desperately depends on water to carry out its primary function of excreting (removing) harmful wastes from the body.

When the body is short of water, it often signifies this by way of thirst. Thirst you can’t seem to quench is one known symptom of diabetes, a disease in which the body doesn’t make enough of insulin (a very vital hormone) or doesn’t use it properly. The lack of insulin allows excess blood sugar (glucose) to build up in the body. Too much of it in the urine draws in more water, making the person urinate frequently.

It’s normal to feel thirsty when it’s hot or after you’ve had an intense aerobic exercise. But if you’re constantly refilling your cup without relief, it could signal another health condition.

Could it be dehydration?

Dehydration means that your body doesn’t have enough water to carry out normal tasks, and thirst is the main symptom. It can happen for a lot of reasons, such as exercise, diarrhoea, vomiting, and too much sweating.

Besides wanting water, other signs of dehydration can include: dark-coloured urine, not needing to pee as often, dry mouth, dry skin, feeling tired or lightheaded and headache.

Children who are dehydrated might also have few or no tears when they cry, have a dry, sticky mouth and go to the bathroom less. Babies that are dehydrated might have fewer wet diapers, be irritable or sluggish.

When water or salt are depleted in the body, the brain generates a signal that causes either a thirst or a salt craving. “Any condition that alters the water or salt balance in the body can trigger thirst,” says Laura M. Hahn, MD, a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, United States.

“If you follow good hydration practices, that is, you drink water regularly then your urine should be within the light yellow to clear range. If you still feel dehydrated despite drinking water regularly, then you need to check in with your doctor to rule out these sneaky saboteurs of good health.

1. Diabetes: Diabetes can increase your risk of dehydration—especially if you’re not yet aware of it. When blood sugar levels are too high, your body puts pressures the kidneys into producing more urine to get rid of the excess glucose, says Heather Rosen, MD, medical director of UPMC Urgent Care North Huntingdon in Pennsylvania. “Frequent urination, another common symptom, will bring on thirst,” she adds. “This leads to drinking more fluids, which compounds the problem.” If you experience excessive thirst and urination, as well as other symptoms like unexplained weight loss, fatigue, or irritability, your doctor would then conduct a fasting blood glucose test to find out if you have diabetes.

2. Diabetes insipidus: Although diabetes insipidus isn’t related to the diabetes we know and loathe, it does share some of the same signs and symptoms, such as dehydration and a busy bladder. Diabetes insipidus is characterized by a hormone imbalance in your body that affects water absorption. Because you end up losing vast amounts of water through your urine and have no say in the matter, thirst strikes as your body tries to compensate for the fluid loss, says Prudence Hall, MD, founder and medical director of the Hall Center in Santa Monica, CA. Since there are several types of diabetes insipidus and it can be caused by other conditions, your doctor will perform a variety of tests to determine which treatment option is best for you.

3. Your period: During the great flood (the monthly menstrual flow), you may feel the urge to suck up water like a shop vacuum machine. Don’t worry: It’s totally normal. “Estrogen and progesterone levels can both affect fluid volume,” says Rosen. “Add to that the blood loss from the cycle itself—especially if your periods are on the heavy side—and the result is a compensatory increase in thirst.” In other words, when you’re stranded in PMS Land (pre-menstrual syndrome), make sure you keep a bottle of water handy.

4. Dry mouth: Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is often mistaken for excessive thirst. “It’s an abnormal dryness of the mucous membranes in the mouth, due to a reduction of the flow or change in the composition of saliva,” says Rosen. If your glands aren’t making enough saliva, that can lead to other pesky symptoms like bad breath, trouble chewing, and thick, stringy saliva. Dry mouth can be a side effect of prescription medications, medication to ameliorate allergies and dizziness or motion sickness medications, says Hahn. “There are also several diseases that can cause dry mouth, so this is always worth bringing up with your doctor,” she adds.

5. Anaemia: Ongoing or sudden blood loss—thanks to issues like heavy periods and bleeding ulcers—is the most common cause of anemia. Your body loses red blood cells faster than they can be replaced, and will try to make up for the fluid loss by triggering thirst, says Rosen.

“A very common,  yet unrecognized cause of heavy periods is low thyroid conditions,” says Hall. “Up to 70 per cent of people experience some degree of thyroid deficiency, which translates to a large number of very thirsty women.” (Learn how to tell if your thyroid is out of whack.) A physical exam and blood test will determine if you have anaemia, and the treatment you receive will depend on the type you’re diagnosed with.

6. Low blood pressure: “Chronic stress causes our adrenal glands to under-function, which may result in low blood pressure when the stress is severe,” says Hall.

“This can cause dizziness, depression, anxiety, and also extreme thirst.” Thirst is your body’s way of adding more water to your blood, in an attempt to raise your blood pressure. Really, the only long-term solution for this is to decrease and better manage your stress.

7. Your diet: “Foods that have a diuretic effect, such as lemon, ginger, melon, celery, asparagus, beets, and parsley, can make you thirsty because they cause you to urinate more,” says Jessica Cording, RD, a dietitian at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “Though these foods have a lot of health benefits, consider this effect yet another reason to incorporate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet: You’ll cover your nutritional bases and keep your thirst in check.” You can also balance the scales by eating more fluid-rich foods, like oatmeal and brown rice, which soak up water during the cooking process.

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