Ketoacidosis is a serious diabetic complication that can happen to anyone who has diabetes, although it only rarely occurs in Type 2 diabetics. Learn about diabetic ketoacidosis, signs of ketoacidosis and the treatment for ketoacidosis in diabetics.
Understanding Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Ketoacidosis in diabetics occurs when there is too little insulin in the body. When cells don’t get the glucose they need, the body begins to burn its own fat, muscle and liver cells for energy. This produces toxic acids called ketones. If ketone levels get too high, it can lead to diabetic coma or even death.
Ketones can be detected with a simple urine test. Many doctors recommend checking your urine for ketones any time your blood sugar goes over 240 mg/dl. Doctors also recommend checking your urine for ketones every four to six hours when you are dealing with other illnesses such as colds or flu.
You can protect your health by understanding the signs of ketoacidosis and regularly checking your blood sugar and urine.
Causes of Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Ketoacidosis in diabetics may occur for a number of reasons:
- Insulin reaction: If your ketone levels are high when you first wake up in the morning, you may have low blood sugar from an insulin reaction you had while sleeping.
- Not enough food: If you’ve missed a meal, or haven’t eaten due to illness or low appetite, it may cause signs of ketoacidosis.
- Not enough insulin: You may not have enough insulin because you did not inject enough, or because your body needs extra insulin due to other factors such as illness.
Signs of Ketoacidosis
Luckily, ketoacidosis in diabetics usually develops slowly, giving you time to intervene. Early signs of ketoacidosis include dry mouth and excessive thirst, frequent urination, high blood sugar levels and high ketone levels in urine.
If left untreated, advanced ketoacidosis in diabetics may cause:
- Abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting
- Confusion and trouble paying attention
- Constant fatigue
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry or flushed skin
- Fruity odor on breath.
Diabetic ketoacidosis can be very dangerous. If you notice signs of ketoacidosis, contact your doctor right away, or get to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Treatment for Ketoacidosis
If you develop diabetic ketoacidosis, you’ll probably need to be treated in the hospital in the intensive care unit. Treatment for ketoacidosis in diabetics typically involves IV fluids and insulin, which help to lower blood acid levels, restore normal sugar and electrolyte balance, and reverse dehydration.
If blood glucose levels fall below 300 mg/dl, treatment for ketoacidosis may include glucose injections, in order to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
American Diabetes Association. (2010). Ketoacidosis (DKA). Retrieved April 19, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/ketoacidosis-dka.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Diabetic ketoacidosis. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetic-ketoacidosis/ds00674.