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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 147 No. 4344 (2017)

Primary polydipsia in the medical and psychiatric patient: characteristics, complications and therapy

  • Clara O. Sailer
  • Bettina Winzeler
  • Mirjam Christ-Crain
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2017;147:w14514


Primary polydipsia (PP) has been defined as excessive intake of fluids. However, the pathogenesis of PP remains unexplored. Different theories include a dysfunction in the thirst mechanism, involvement of the hippocampus, stress-reducing behaviour and lesion occurrences in specific areas of the brain. Most studies have been performed in the psychiatric setting, indicating that PP coincides with schizophrenia, anxiety disorder and depression. However, an increasing number of case reports emphasise the incidence of PP in non-psychiatric patients. As often recommended by healthcare professions and in life-style programmes, the phenomenon of excessive fluid intake appears to be growing, especially in health-conscious and active people. PP is part of the polyuria-polydipsia syndrome, so the differential diagnosis diabetes insipidus (central or nephrogenic) must be excluded. The gold standard when differentiating between these disorders has been the water deprivation test. However, new options for distinguishing between these entities have been proposed e.g., measurement of copeptin, a reliable surrogate marker of the hormone arginine vasopressin (AVP). The major risk of excessive drinking is the development of hyponatraemia and the ensuing complications. In patients with PP, factors reducing the renal excretory capacity of the kidney such as acute illness, medications or low solute intake may accumulate in hyponatraemia. Treatment options for PP remain scarce. Different medication and behavioural therapy have been investigated, but never on a large scale and rarely in non-psychiatric patients. This review provides an overview of the pathophysiology, characteristics, complications, and outcomes of patients with PP in the medical and psychiatric patient.


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