What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis? (DKA)

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition that develops when cells in the body are unable to get the sugar (glucose) they need for energy because there is not enough insulin.

When the sugar cannot get into the cells, it stays in the blood. The kidneys filter some of the sugar from the blood and remove it from the body through urine. Since the cells cannot receive sugar for energy, the body begins to break down fat and muscle for energy. When this happens, ketones, or fatty acids, are produced and enter the bloodstream causing the chemical imbalance called diabetic ketoacidosis.

The body will first spill ketones in the urine when there isn’t enough insulin. If the body still does not receive the insulin it needs, the ketone (acid) level builds up in the blood resulting in DKA.

What causes DKA?

Some of the main causes of Diabetic Ketoacidosis include:

  • Illness – the amount of insulin needed is usually more when sick so the body will have the extra energy it needs to fight the illness.

  • Forgetting to give one or more insulin shots or boluses.

  • Not enough insulin for food eaten.

  • Spoiled insulin.

  • An insulin pump which is not working properly or has been disconnected too long.

Signs and Symptoms of DKA:

  • High blood sugar.

  • Thirst and frequent urination.

  • Stomachache, vomiting.

  • Large ketones.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Rapid, deep breathing.

  • Flushed, hot dry skin.

Treating DKA:

Treatment involves giving insulin and fluids. Consult your physician. When severe, it must be treated in a hospital. If you have high blood sugar along with rapid, deep breathing, go to the emergency room.


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