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What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a condition that can sometimes be an indication that a person has diabetes. And for people already diagnosed with diabetes, knowing what can trigger diabetic ketoacidosis and the signs and symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis can be a lifesaver.

The Long-term Effects of Uncontrolled Diabetes

What is diabetic ketoacidosis?

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when there is not enough insulin in the blood. Insulin is important because it helps the body regulate and utilize the sugar in the blood.

When the body lacks insulin, it can’t properly utilize sugar as a source of energy. Because of this, the body starts breaking down fat stores in an attempt to use it as fuel.

This job is done by the liver, which breaks down the fat rapidly in order for it to be utilized as energy. This broken down fat is turned into a fuel called ketones that are normally used by the muscles and the heart.

But for someone suffering from ketoacidosis, the liver breaks down the fat too quickly, and produces more ketones than the body can use. This causes the ketones to build up in the blood, and cause it to become acidic. This is what ketoacidosis is.

For a person who does not know that they are diabetic, this can be life-threatening, because they might not even be aware of what’s happening inside their body.

For diabetics, this is just as dangerous, which is why it is important for diabetics to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels.

What can trigger diabetic ketoacidosis?

When it comes to the question of what can trigger diabetic ketoacidosis, there are 2 main triggers:

Illness or Infection

First is that an illness or infection could cause the body to produce certain hormones. These hormones can sometimes counteract the effect of insulin, which triggers ketoacidosis. The most common types of infection that can cause this are urinary tract infections or UTI, or pneumonia.

Insufficient Insulin

The other trigger is that a diabetic could miss their dose of insulin, or not take enough insulin. This makes it hard for the body to process sugars, and can thus trigger ketoacidosis.

There are other possible things that can trigger diabetic ketoacidosis, such as the following:

Diabetic ketoacidosis is also more common for people suffering from type 1 diabetes.

In addition, people who are unable to take insulin doses regularly, or constantly miss their doses, are more prone to having ketoacidosis.

Insulin Replacement Therapy for Type 1 Diabetes

Signs and symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis

Here are some of the possible signs and symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis:

  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling constantly thirsty
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
  • Sweet-smelling or fruity smelling breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue

In addition to these symptoms, a blood sugar test would also show high blood sugar levels. In addition, a urine test would show high levels of ketones.

If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, it would be a good idea to go to the hospital as soon as possible.

what can trigger diabetic ketoacidosis

How is it treated?

In terms of treatment, fluids and electrolytes are usually provided to prevent dehydration. In addition, patients who have ketoacidosis are given a dose of insulin.

Insulin can help counteract the effects of diabetic ketoacidosis since it helps the body utilize the sugar in the blood. This means that the body will stop trying to convert fat into energy, which can help bring down the level of ketones to safe amounts.

However, the treatment involved in ketoacidosis can have certain side effects. These include the following:

  • Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia
  • Low potassium levels or hypokalemia
  • Swelling in the brain, or cerebral edema

Once a person undergoes treatment for ketoacidosis, doctors will be constantly monitoring their vital signs. This is to prevent or mitigate any possible complications. And despite these risks, the risk of death from ketoacidosis is much greater. So treatment is very important.

After a person suffers from diabetic ketoacidosis, they would need to take steps to better manage their diabetes. This means that they could require insulin shots, diabetes medication, as well as a change in diet and lifestyle. All of these things help contribute to lowering the risk that it will happen again.

What complications can arise from this condition?

Diabetic ketoacidosis is no joke. It is a life-threatening condition that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

In fact, before the discovery of insulin, having diabetic ketoacidosis was basically fatal. This is why insulin is one of the most important medical discoveries.

If left untreated, ketoacidosis can lead to a coma, or even death.

Once the symptoms appear, a person could die within the span of a day, or a few weeks. This is why immediate treatment is important, in order to prevent death from ketoacidosis.

It is also possible for someone with diabetic ketoacidosis to suffer damage to their liver, and their kidney.

How to Prevent Diabetic Kidney Disease

How can it be prevented?

Here are some ways to prevent diabetic ketoacidosis:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Engage in exercise for at least 30 minutes each day
  • Make sure to monitor your blood sugar levels and make sure they are normal
  • If you are taking insulin shots, be sure to take the right dosage at the right time
  • Losing weight can also help you better manage diabetes

By following these tips you can lower your risk of having ketoacidosis.

Learn more about diabetes complications here.


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Diabetic ketoacidosis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000320.htm#:~:text=Diabetic%20ketoacidosis%20(DKA)%20is%20a,the%20blood%20to%20become%20acidic., Accessed August 26 2020

Diabetic ketoacidosis – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-ketoacidosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20371551, Accessed August 26 2020

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA): Practice Essentials, Background, Pathophysiology, https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/118361-overview, Accessed August 26 2020

DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones | ADA, https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/dka-ketoacidosis-ketones, Accessed August 26 2020

Diabetic ketoacidosis – NHS – NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetic-ketoacidosis/, Accessed August 26 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated May 19
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel