Diabetic Ketoacidosis: Symptoms and Treatment

DIABETES CARE|Nov.13, 2018

Proper diabetes management is important.

What may be less known is that poor diabetes management can lead to serious health effects that extend beyond high- or low-blood sugar levels.

Ketoacidosis is a serious side effect of diabetes. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

With low levels of insulin, your body can't effectively use the glucose circulating through it, meaning maintaining healthy glucose levels is impossible. Instead, your body turns to using ketones for energy. The combination of ketones and high blood sugar can make your body too acidic to function properly. This is called diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, and it's an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you're at higher risk of developing the condition, according to Harvard Health. Missing an insulin injection can also lead to ketoacidosis.

Ketoacidosis Symptoms

If you have diabetes, keep an eye out for the following ketoacidosis symptoms:

  • Excessive thirst.
  • Having to urinate frequently.
  • Vomiting or feeling nauseated.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Fatigue, or feeling weak or very tired.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Fruity-smelling breath.
  • Confusion.
  • Elevated blood sugar.
  • Elevated ketone levels in the urine.

Signs of ketoacidosis can come on quickly, sometimes within a day, the Mayo Clinic notes, so get medical attention at the first signs.

You can detect ketones with a simple urine test using a test strip, similar to a blood testing strip. Many experts advise to check your urine for ketones when your blood glucose is more than 240 mg/dL. Ask your doctor for a guide on when and how you should test for ketones.

Seek Prompt Medical Care

Call your doctor immediately if you have been vomiting and can't hold down food, have elevated blood sugar levels that don't respond to home diabetes care or your urine or blood ketones are somewhat high or very high. Seeking medical care early can minimize the serious effects of ketoacidosis, which could include diabetic coma or death, according to the American Diabetes Association.

To make a diagnosis, your physician will test for healthy glucose levels, ketones and electrolyte levels, according to Harvard Health. They may also check if you have an infection. If they determine you have diabetic ketoacidosis, you may need to be treated in the hospital.

Ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes. If you have diabetes, it's important to know the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis. At the same time, you shouldn't have to worry about it too much as long as you follow your doctor's advice to manage your condition well.