Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body lacks insulin and cannot get the sugar it needs for energy, and so it breaks down fat instead. This process makes fatty acids called ketones. The ketones build up in the blood and change the chemical balance in your body. Ketones are toxic to your body and can cause weakness, fatigue, weight loss, stomach pain, rapid breathing, nausea and vomiting. If not treated, this condition can lead to a coma or even death.
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.
- Flushed, hot, dry skin
- Blurred vision
- Feeling thirsty and urinating a lot
- Drowsiness or difficulty waking up
- Young children may lack interest in their normal activities
- Rapid, deep breathing
- Shortness of breath
- A strong, fruity breath odor
- Loss of appetite, belly pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Making sure that your blood sugar levels are within their normal range by checking them several times per day
- Never skipping insulin doses
- Talking to your doctor about adjusting your insulin dosage levels based on your activity level, illnesses, or other factors, such as what you’re eating
- Developing an emergency or “sick-day” plan so you will know what to do if you develop DKA symptoms
- Testing your urine for ketone levels during periods of high stress or illness—this can help you catch moderate to high ketone levels before they threaten your health
- Seeking medical care if your blood sugar and ketone levels are higher than normal—early detection is essential
When to see a doctor
- If you have diabetes and start vomiting, seek immediate medical attention.
- If you have diabetes and develop a fever, contact your health care practitioner.
- If you feel sick, check your urinary ketone levels with home test strips. If your urinary ketones are moderate or higher, contact your health care practitioner.
- Close monitoring and control of blood sugars, especially during times of infection, stress, trauma, or other serious illness;
- Take extra insulin injections or other diabetes medications on time as directed by your health care practitioner.
- Contact health care practitioner or seeking medical attention promptly as needed
- You’re vomiting and unable to tolerate food or liquid
- Your blood sugar level is higher than your target range and doesn’t respond to home treatment
- More-specific signs of diabetic ketoacidosis — which can be detected through home blood and urine testing kits — include:
- High blood sugar level (hyperglycemia)
- High ketone levels in your urine