Diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA is a serious complication of type 1 diabetes  It also occurs with type 2 diabetes, but less frequently.   Insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas, helps sugar in the bloodstream enter the cells to create energy. When the body does not have enough insulin, the sugar accumulates in the blood and creates acids called ketones. Eventually, the excess ketones spill over into the urinary system and the body excretes them.  If this buildup goes unchecked, it will lead to DKA, which may require emergency treatment. The condition can result in coma or death.

Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis can appear quickly, sometimes within a day. For diabetics and those who are at risk, knowing the symptoms is crucial. Sometimes, developing the condition can lead to a diagnosis of diabetes for the first time.

Triggers may include administering too little insulin or missing doses. Illness or infection can also bring on DKA. Illness causes stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, to enter the bloodstream.  This interferes with insulin production. Other causes include emotional or physical trauma, excessive alcohol and drug use (particularly cocaine), heart attack, and medications such as anti-inflammatories or diuretics.

You can detect several specific markers of DKA at home with the proper testing kits, which help measure blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and ketones levels. You should seek medical care if a blood sugar reading is 300 mg per deciliter or above, or if ketones in the urine are detected.

Common Symptoms

  • Excessive thirst
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion