a medical professional who understands diabetic ketoacidosis

What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of diabetes. It begins when your body is unable to produce enough insulin, which plays a huge role in using sugar (glucose) in the body. When this happens, your body starts to break down fat as an alternative fuel. As a result, ketones, or toxic acids, build up in the bloodstream and lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.


The signs and symptoms for diabetic ketoacidosis usually develop rather quickly, and they might be the first indication of having diabetes for some people. All or some of these symptoms might occur within 24 hours:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fruity-scented breath
  • Confusion

If you have home blood and urine testing kits, other more specific signs can be detected. These include high blood sugar levels and high ketone levels in your urine. Seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, because diabetic ketoacidosis can be fatal if left untreated.


What begins the process of diabetic ketoacidosis is your body’s inability to produce enough insulin. There can be several triggers that negatively affect your body’s production of insulin. The most common are:

  • Certain illnesses
    Some infections or illnesses cause your body to produce higher levels of different hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones work against insulin production. Health conditions like pneumonia or uninary tract infections produce higher levels of these hormones and can sometimes cause an episode of diabetic ketoacidosis.

    ?You have a higher risk for developing diabetic ketoacidosis if you have type I diabetes, are younger than age 19, and frequently miss insulin doses. It is possible to develop diabetic ketoacidosis with type II diabetes, but it is much less common.
  • Problems with insulin therapy
    If you miss insulin treatments, it can leave you with too little insulin in your system, which also can result in diabetic ketoacidosis. There are other less common triggers, such as stress, physical or emotional trauma, high fever, surgery, heart attack, and substance abuse.


If you are diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis, you will probably be treated in a hospital or emergency room. Depending on your personal circumstances, your doctor may recommend additional treatment that will be more specific to what caused the episode in the first place. There are three approaches for treatment that are usually used in conjunction for the most effective results:

  • Fluid replacement
    You will be rehydrated with fluids either orally or intravenously. This is to replenish the fluids you have lost through excessive urination and to dilute the excess sugar in your blood.
  • Electrolyte replacement
    The absence of insulin can lower the level of electrolytes in your blood. You will receive electrolytes intravenously in order to keep your heart, muscles, and nerve cells functioning normally.
  • Insulin therapy
    The only thing that can reverse the process of diabetic ketoacidosis is insulin. So, you will also receive insulin through your veins to lower your blood sugar to a reasonable level.
Last Updated: February 16, 2015