An international group representing leading endocrinology associations has recommended that the name “diabetes insipidus” – which in some cases has led to harm – be changed to eliminate confusion with “diabetes mellitus” and to reflect the former condition’s pathophysiology.
The new proposed names are arginine vasopressin deficiency (AVP-D) for central (also called “cranial”) etiologies and arginine vasopressin resistance (AVP-R) for nephrogenic (kidney) etiologies.
“What we’re proposing is to rename the disease according to the pathophysiology that defines it,” statement co-author Joseph G. Verbalis, MD, professor of medicine and chief of endocrinology and metabolism at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, told this news organization.
The statement advises that henceforth the new names be used in manuscripts and the medical literature while keeping the old names in parentheses during a transition period, as in “AVP-deficiency (cranial diabetes insipidus)” and “AVP-resistance (nephrogenic diabetes insipidus).”
The condition formerly known as diabetes insipidus is relatively rare, occurring in about 1 person per 10-15,000 population. It is caused by either deficient production or resistance in the kidney to the hormone AVP, normally produced by the hypothalamus and stored in the pituitary gland. AVP, also called antidiuretic hormone, regulates the body’s water level and urine production by the kidney.
Both etiologies lead to extreme thirst and excessive production of urine. Common causes of the deficiency include head trauma or brain tumor, while resistance in the kidney is often congenital. It is currently treated with a synthetic form of AVP called desmopressin and fluid replacement.
What’s in a name?
The proposal to change the name by the Working Group for Renaming Diabetes Insipidus is endorsed by The Endocrine Society, European Society of Endocrinology, Pituitary Society, Society for Endocrinology, European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology, Endocrine Society of Australia, Brazilian Endocrine Society, and Japanese Endocrine Society and is under review by several other societies. It was published as a position statement in several of those society’s journals, with more to follow.
Historically, the word “diabetes,” a Greek word meaning “siphon,” was used in the 1st and 2nd century BC to describe excess flow of urine. The Latin word “mellitus” or “honey” was added in the late 17th century to describe the sweetness of the urine in the dysglycemic condition.
A century later, the Latin word “insipidus,” meaning insipid or tasteless, was coined to distinguish between the two types of polyuria, the position statement details.
In the late 19th to early 20th century, the vasopressor and antidiuretic actions of posterior pituitary extracts were discovered and used to treat people with both the central and nephrogenic etiologies, which were also recognized around that time, yet the name “diabetes insipidus” has persisted.
“From a historical perspective, the name is perfectly appropriate. At the time it was identified, and it was realized that it was different from diabetes mellitus, that was a perfectly appropriate terminology based on what was known in the late 19th century – but not now. It has persisted through the years simply because in medicine there’s a lot of inertia for change ... It’s just always been called that. If there’s not a compelling reason to change a name, generally there’s no move to change it,” Dr. Verbalis observed.