If blood sugar remains higher than normal for a prolonged period, the body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs because of the lack of insulin, an essential hormone. Instead of using the sugar for energy, which is typical, the body uses fat in the form of ketones, as fuel. When blood sugar levels are too high for too long, ketones build up in the blood. In turn, the body undergoes a chemical imbalance. Though many people today are undertaking the ketogenic diet to reach a state of ketosis, this is not the same as diabetic ketoacidosis, which is dangerous. Stress, sickness, and skipping a meal can increase ketones, but people with type 1 diabetes are even more at risk of developing the condition.
Excessive Thirst and Frequent Urination
A dry mouth or the feeling of thirst that cannot be explained by physical activity or a lack of sufficient fluid intake could point to diabetes. Excessive thirst is a symptom of high blood sugar and diabetic ketoacidosis. Even without an increase in fluids, a person with diabetic ketoacidosis may find themselves needing to urinate more often.
Abdominal Pain or Nausea and Vomiting
An upset stomach associated with vomiting is a common symptom of the flu. However, it is also a warning sign of diabetic ketoacidosis. These symptoms can range in severity from feeling queasy to throwing up repeatedly. Anyone who vomits for more than two hours or cannot tolerate or keep down liquid or foods should seek medical attention immediately.
This symptom of diabetic ketoacidosis is unique but noticeable. If friends or family members notice a sweet, fruity smell on someone’s breath for no obvious reason, this could be a symptom of DKA. This sign might be harder to recognize in people who often consume a lot of fruit.
Weakness, Fatigue, or Confusion
Feeling rundown or tired is common when one has been sleeping poorly or overexerting during the day. However, if someone feels fatigued with no clear cause for days at a time, this is often symptomatic of a greater issue. One of these issues is diabetic ketoacidosis. People with DKA may also feel confused or woozy.
Shortness of Breath and Kussmaul Breathing
Diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to so-called Kussmaul breathing, which is an abnormal, deeper, labored breathing that points to increased acidity in the body and its organs. Various conditions that cause metabolic disturbances can result in this symptom, which is often a sign of serious illness. Kussmaul breathing and related metabolic changes can cause organ failure, coma, and even death.
Blood and Urine Levels
High blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia and high ketone levels are signs of diabetic ketoacidosis, but can also indicate other conditions. Blood and urine tests can determine these excesses. People with diabetes should check their levels often, and be even more aware when stress levels are high and following injury or illness. A reading of more than 240 mg/dL should prompt regular monitoring.
Treatment: Visit the Doctor
Experiencing multiple symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis should encourage an individual to contact their doctor as soon as possible. People who know they have type 1 diabetes who note that their blood sugar or urine ketone levels remain high require medical attention. Diabetic ketoacidosis can become life-threatening in a short period if not treated. Diabetic ketoacidosis is treated with IV fluids, electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride, and with insulin.
Treatment: Fluid Replacement
Rehydration is essential for more people with diabetic ketoacidosis. A doctor may administer fluids orally or intravenously. After excessive urination it is vital to replace lost fluids, and this treatment will also help dilute the sugar in the blood, lowering blood sugar levels.
Treatment: Electrolyte Replacement
Electrolytes are minerals and include chloride, potassium, and sodium. Without enough hormones, electrolyte levels drop. Since the body needs these compounds to perform many important functions, most people will quickly experience the symptoms of chemical imbalances associated with diabetic ketoacidosis. The appropriate amount of electrolytes allows your nerves, muscles, and other tissues to function properly. Doctors can replace electrolytes both orally and intravenously.
Treatment: Hormone Therapy
Besides electrolytes and extra fluids, some people require insulin hormone insulin therapy to treat diabetic ketoacidosis and return blood sugar levels to normal. This type of treatment begins as intravenous, but once levels stabilize and the blood is no longer acidic, most people can continue with daily treatments at home.