Diabetes insipidus - Treatment 

Treating diabetes insipidus 

Treatments for diabetes insipidus aim to reduce the amount of urine your body produces. Depending on the type of diabetes insipidus you have, there are several ways of treating your condition and controlling your symptoms.

Treating cranial diabetes insipidus

If you have mild cranial diabetes insipidus, you may not need any medical treatment for your condition.

Cranial diabetes insipidus is considered mild if you produce approximately three to four litres of urine over 24 hours.

If this is the case, you may be able to ease your symptoms by increasing the amount of water you drink, to avoid dehydration. Your GP or endocrinologist (specialist in hormone conditions) may advise you to drink a certain amount of water every day, usually at least 2.5 litres.

However, if your cranial diabetes insipidus is more severe, drinking water may not be enough to keep your symptoms under control. As your condition is due to a shortage of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), your GP or endocrinologist may prescribe a treatment that takes the place of ADH, known as desmopressin.


Desmopressin is a manufactured version of ADH, and is more powerful than the ADH naturally produced by your body. It works just like natural ADH, stopping your kidneys producing urine when the level of water in your body is low.

Desmopressin can be taken as a nasal spray or in tablet form.

If you are prescribed desmopressin as a nasal spray, you will need to spray it inside your nose once or twice a day, where it is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream.

If you are prescribed desmopressin tablets, you may need to take them more than twice a day. This is because desmopressin is absorbed into your blood less effectively through your stomach than through your nasal passages, so you need to take more to have the same effect.

Your GP or endocrinologist may suggest switching your treatment to tablets if you develop a cold that prevents you from using the nasal spray.

Desmopressin is very safe to use. There are few side effects, but they can include:

If you take too much desmopressin or drink too much fluid while taking it, it can cause your body to retain too much water. This can result in:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • feeling bloated
  • hyponatraemia (a dangerously low level of sodium (salt) in your blood)

Symptoms of hyponatraemia include:

  • an unusually bad or prolonged headache
  • confusion
  • unexplained weight gain
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting (being sick)

If you think you may have hyponatraemia, immediately stop taking the medication and call your GP for advice. If this is not possible, go to your local accident and emergency (A&E) department.

Thiazide diuretics

Thiazide diuretics are a type of medication normally used to increase the flow of urine from the body, so their use may seem counterproductive in the treatment of diabetes insipidus.

However, they have the useful side effect of making the urine more concentrated (so it contains a high level of waste products).

For people with diabetes insipidus, the medication has a completely opposite effect to that which is normally expected. By increasing the concentration of the urine, the medication reduces the amount of urine passed from the body.

Side effects are uncommon but include:

This last side effect is usually temporary and should resolve itself if you stop taking the medication.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

For reasons that are still unclear, when used in combination with thiazide diuretics, the class of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce urine volume further.

However, long-term use of NSAIDs increases your risk of developing a stomach ulcer. To counter this increased risk you may be prescribed an additional medication called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). PPIs can help protect the lining of your stomach against the harmful effects of NSAIDs; reducing the risk of any ulcers forming.

Read more about the treatment of stomach ulcers.

Treating nephrogenic diabetes insipidus

If your nephrogenic diabetes insipidus is caused by taking a particular medication, such as lithium or tetracycline, your GP or endocrinologist may stop your treatment and suggest an alternative medication. Do not stop taking any medication unless you have been told to do so by a healthcare professional.

As nephrogenic diabetes insipidus results from your kidneys not responding to ADH, rather than a shortage of ADH, it cannot be treated with desmopressin. However, it is still important to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

If your condition is mild, your GP or endocrinologist may suggest changing your diet so it is very low in salt and protein, which will help your kidneys produce less urine. This may mean eating less salt and less protein-rich food, such as processed foods, meat, eggs and nuts. Do not alter your diet without medical advice. Your GP or endocrinologist can advise you about which foods to cut down on.

If your nephrogenic diabetes insipidus is more severe, you may be prescribed a combination of thiazide diuretics and an NSAID to help reduce the amount of urine your kidneys produce. 

Page last reviewed: 01/05/2012

Next review due: 01/05/2014


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 39 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


Help with health costs

People with diabetes insipidus are entitled to medical exemption (MedEx) certificates, which means they do not have to pay any prescription charges for medication required to treat their condition.

See Help with health costs for more information on how to apply for a MedEx certificate.

Making sense of your medicines

Find out about taking prescription medicines and what to discuss with your doctor. Plus, a pharmacist answers common questions