Thirst or dry mouth 

  • Overview

Introduction 

It's important to drink plenty of fluids, particularly in hot weather and when exercising 

Dry mouth

Some people complain of being thirsty when they actually have a dry mouth. It's important to know the difference between the two because they can have completely different causes.

If your mouth is permanently dry, the cause is more likely to be anxiety or certain medications, including some types of antidepressants and hyoscine.

Dry mouth at night and first thing in the morning may be due to having a blocked nose and breathing through your mouth while asleep.

Feeling thirsty all the time and for no good reason isn't normal and should be investigated by your GP.

Normally, feeling thirsty is the brain's way of warning that you're dehydrated because you're not drinking the amount of fluid your body needs. You can soon quench your thirst and restore the fluid balance in your body after having a drink. Read more about how much you should drink to avoid thirst and dehydration.

If thirst is excessive and persistent, it could be a sign of diabetes or another underlying health condition (see below).

Doctors often refer to abnormal thirst as 'polydipsia'.

Points to consider

It's worth thinking about what you've been eating and drinking recently. Eating more salty or spicy foods than normal can cause a sudden increase in thirst.

Thirst can also be caused by losing excessive amounts of water from the body. This can happen after:

A dry mouth or excessive thirst can sometimes be a side effect of certain types of medication, such as antidepressantsantihistamines or diuretics (water tablets). These medicines can affect the salivary glands, leading to a reduction in the amount of saliva they produce.

If a particular medicine is causing your dry mouth, it may be possible to change to a different medicine or reduce your dose. Speak to your GP about this.

In women, feeling thirsty can also be one of the symptoms of pregnancy. This is because of hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if you:

  • feel thirsty all the time for no apparent reason
  • feel thirsty all of the time and you also have other symptoms, such as extreme tiredness (fatigue) or passing a lot of urine

Your GP will probably carry out a blood glucose test to see whether you have diabetes.

Diabetes clues

As well as feeling thirsty, people with diabetes usually feel very tired and need to go to the toilet a lot, particularly at night.

If you have diabetes, your body will be unable to break down glucose into energy. This is because either the body doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin that is produced doesn't work properly.

Read more about type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Other causes of thirst

There are also many other potential causes of a dry mouth or severe thirst. These include:

  • excessive bleeding
  • sickle cell anaemia – an inherited blood disorder
  • diabetic ketoacidosis – a dangerous complication of diabetes caused by a lack of insulin in the body
  • Sjogren's syndrome – where the body’s immune system attacks glands that secrete fluid, such as the tear and saliva glands
  • psychogenic polydipsia – where a person with a mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, drinks excessive amounts of water that can't be excreted (got rid of) by the kidneys

Any condition that leads to dehydration will cause thirst.

Hot weather and exercise

It's very important to drink plenty of water or other drinks (non-alcoholic) during hot weather and while exercising or doing other types of strenuous physical activity.

Remember, you need to take on board extra fluid while exercising in hot conditions to avoid becoming dehydrated.




Page last reviewed: 20/05/2013

Next review due: 20/05/2015

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Smodaig said on 08 January 2014

My consultant recommended drinking pineapple juice or freezing pineapple chunks and sucking them. It works quite well for about half an hour. Has anyone else got any good remedies for a dry mouth?

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anonymous said on 09 October 2012

I am not on any medications and do not suffer from anxiety so what other possible causes are there of dry mouth? needs to be more links and explanation been tested for diabetes in past so not this either, not much info on this page!

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