What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Diabetic ketoacidosis, also known as DKA, is one of the worst acute diabetic complications that can arise, and if left untreated, DKA can lead to a coma or even death. This condition is typically found in patients of Type 1 diabetes and, in rare cases, it can also appear in patients of Type 2 diabetes. It is important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms associated with this condition and how they can be avoided. In addition, DKA is another reason for diabetics to monitor their blood-glucose levels closely, making sure that they have enough FreeStyle lancets or Contour test strips or Aviva test strips as needed.


Diabetic ketoacidosis begins when the body finds itself unable to process sugar (glucose) from the blood due to a lack of insulin. Normally, insulin produced by the body does not allow fat to be used as an energy source, but instead extracts the sugar found in the blood and stores it in the liver and muscles so that it can be used as fuel. When there is a low amount of insulin or none at all, the body processes fat as energy. This creates an acidic by-product in the blood called ketone, which becomes toxic in high amounts.


Common Causes of Diabetic Ketoacidosis


The most common causes of DKA are severe illnesses and infections. When you are sick the body produces certain hormones that counteract insulin. This condition can also occur as a result of other circumstances that put stress on the body like a heart attack or a stroke. Also, missing insulin doses, unobserved insulin pump malfunctions, and other types of medications can induce the progression of DKA.


In less than 24 hours, diabetic ketoacidosis can develop and bring with it a range of symptoms. One common symptom is constant urination from hyperglycemia that can provoke dehydration and thirst. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, confusion and shortness of breath. As the body is overwhelmed by acidic ketones it can also cause hyperventilation due to a release of carbon dioxide as the body tries to regulate blood acid levels. Another symptom is that a person’s breath can take on a fruity odor as the ketoacidosis worsens.


Preventing DKA


The key to diagnosing and preventing DKA is to check the ketone levels in your urine by using testing strips similar to those used for the blood. Ketone testing should be done every 4 to 6 hours either when blood sugar is higher than 240 mg/dl, during a heart attack or stroke, or when nausea or vomiting occurs. This is why it is particularly important for diabetics to monitor their blood sugar consistently, using Aviva test strips or FreeStyle lancets or Contour test strips as their devices need; many diabetics don’t necessarily know right off the bat when their blood sugar is high. Urine testing strips can be found in almost all local pharmacies or you can get tested for ketones at your doctor’s office.


Treating DKA


Treating DKA is usually done in an intensive care unit in three steps. First, fluids are replaced intravenously to combat dehydration. Secondly, since DKA also reduces electrolytes the treatment will bring them to a healthy level. Lastly, since a lack of insulin is the main culprit of this condition, insulin treatment will reverse DKA by bringing down your blood glucose and stopping the acidification of the blood caused by the ketones.


If you think you have developed DKA, call your health care provider and follow their instructions to the letter. If you suffer from diabetes, learn to spot the symptoms so that you can test for ketones. Also, if you have an insulin pump, make sure that the insulin is flowing correctly and check that the tube is not blocked, bent or disconnected from the pump. While DKA is treatable, knowing how to detect the signs may be the difference between life and death.


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