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Symptoms Of Diabetic Ketoacidosis And Its Complications

Symptoms Of Diabetic Ketoacidosis And Its Complications

Diabetic ketoacidosis, also called DKA is a severe, life-threatening medical condition resulting from the inability of the body cells to metabolise blood sugar (glucose), which leads to the breakdown of fats as an alternative source of energy.

The condition is prevalent in people with type I diabetes and can be easily diagnosed by carrying out private blood testing in London. In rare cases, diabetic ketoacidosis may affect people who have type II diabetes. Some people become hospitalised from having diabetic ketoacidosis and a few persons die from the condition.

Causes of diabetic ketoacidosis

Having an extremely high level of ketones in the blood leads to diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketone levels increase in the blood when the body breaks down fat to produce energy for the cells to function.

Normally, the body’s source of energy is glucose. Insulin, a hormone in the body, helps to make glucose available to the body cells, but, when insulin or glucose is insufficient in the cells, the body begins to break down fat, and ketones are the by-product of the process.

When your insulin level is low or unavailable, the body uncontrollably produces ketones, leading to extremely high ketone levels in the blood.  In normal metabolism, the ketone level in the blood is little and usually insignificant, but if yours is above 1.6mmol/L or 29mg/dl, you may be at risk of developing ketoacidosis.

Low insulin levels are common in diabetic patients because the condition makes the body unable to produce or recognise insulin.

High levels of blood sugar and diabetic ketoacidosis

In some case, having a high level of sugar in the blood is an indication that you have diabetic ketoacidosis. If you have little or no insulin but continue to eat normally, glucose accumulates in your blood, causing you to high blood. If you have diabetes, aim to keep your blood sugar level between 70 mg/dL and 180mg/dL.

If your blood sugar is about 380mg/dL, you should check your urine for the presence of ketone. You can check your ketone level by getting a ketone test strip which measures the level of ketones in the urine. The level of ketone in your urine indicates your blood ketone level.

A low sugar level in the blood combined with other stressors like a heart attack or an infection may also cause DKA. This may be a result of increased stress hormones in the body which leads to the release and breakdown of fats, giving off ketone as a by-product.

Bear in mind that it is low insulin levels and not high blood glucose that leads to DKA. If you are a type I diabetic patient and you haven’t eaten or taken insulin, you may be at risk of developing DKA.

Symptoms and signs of DKA

The following are common signs of diabetic ketoacidosis.

  • Confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fruity-scented breath
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath

The progress of these symptoms depends on how quickly the condition develops and the underlying cause. For example, if you have type I diabetes and eat normally but fail to take your insulin medication or your insulin is ineffective for any reason, you would have increased level of blood sugar. This is characterised by excessive urination and extreme thirst. Your blood sugar can get extremely high immediately after eating, and you can experience vomiting, nausea, and loss of appetite within a few hours.

Treatment of DKA

Diabetic ketoacidosis is usually a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. Sometimes, DKA may be mild, and in this case, you can treat it outside the hospital. However, it is best to get medical attention if you notice signs of DKA because severe cases of diabetic ketoacidosis may lead to death. The treatment of DKA includes the following.

  • Taking insulin

If you have an insulin pump and it gets broken unknowingly to you, keeping you without insulin for some hours, you may need to contact a doctor who would likely administer a large dose of insulin at home.

If you have DKA, you are likely to be under much stress, and the body uses up more insulin when stressed. This means that you may need higher doses of insulin.

  • Drink fluids

Having diabetic ketoacidosis causes dehydration, so you need to take more fluids. If you are vomiting and cannot retain fluids, you may need to visit the hospital.

  • Seek medical help

If you have DKA and the cause is unknown, you should visit the hospital. Having multiple DKA symptoms may require immediate medical attention. In most cases, DKA requires hospitalisation for about 1 – 3 days. This enables the doctor to observe you properly.

Treatment in a hospital may involve the doctor administering fluids intravenously to help reduce dehydration. The treatment also requires insulin injections to enable the body to have sufficient insulin to metabolise glucose for body cells, preventing the need for fat metabolism and release of ketones.

Your doctor will also monitor your potassium levels because the treatment of DKA may lead to low levels of potassium. The small doses of insulin taken daily do not affect potassium levels, unlike the large doses needed to bring the body’s metabolism to become normal.


People with type I diabetes are at a high risk of developing DKA, hence the need to be careful if you have type I diabetes. If you have diabetes, try not to miss your insulin dose. In rare cases, people with type II diabetes develop DKA.

If you have high blood pressure, you also need to be careful because it is a risk factor for DKA, and you could develop the condition even without having high blood sugar levels.

If you experience the symptoms of DKA, and you have not been diagnosed with diabetes, check your ketone levels using a ketone test kit and get medical help immediately.

A Blood test London can help in the diagnosis of diabetic ketoacidosis, so contact Blood London today on 020 71830244 to a DKA blood test.