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DIABETES: Diabetic Ketoacidosis Overview

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes caused by a lack of insulin.

Detailed Information

The information in this response regarding DKA is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

DKA is a serious condition that can lead to diabetic coma (passing out for a long time) or even death. DKA is dangerous and serious. If you have any of the symptoms listed below, contact your health care provider IMMEDIATELY, or go to the nearest emergency room of your local hospital.

Overview of Diabetic Ketoacidosis

When the body does not have enough insulin for the passage of adequate glucose into cells, it begins to break down fat for energy which produces ketones. The buildup of ketones in the body makes the blood acidic, leading to DKA.1

Causes for DKA may include

  • not enough insulin

  • not enough food, and/or

  • insulin reaction (low blood glucose).1

Table 1. Symptoms of DKA1

Early Symptoms

Later Symptoms

  • Thirst or very dry mouth

  • Frequent urination

  • High blood glucose levels

  • High ketone levels in the urine

  • Constantly feeling tired

  • Dry or flushed skin

  • Nausea, vomiting,a or abdominal pain

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Fruity odor on breath

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty paying attention

Abbreviations: DKA = diabetic ketoacidosis.

a Vomiting can be caused by many illnesses, not just DKA. If vomiting continues for more than 2 hours, contact your health care provider.

Ketones can be measured at home using a urine test and ketone test strip.1 Ask your healthcare provider how and when to test for ketones.

Treatment for DKA typically takes place in a hospital.1 

Abbreviations

DKA = diabetic ketoacidosis

Reference

1. DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones. American Diabetes Association website. https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/dka-ketoacidosis-ketones. Accessed December 13, 2019.

Date of Last Review: October 07, 2019

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