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What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis? Signs, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious complication, which if not managed on time can lead to coma or even death

Written by: Shubhangi ShahPublished at: Nov 24,2021
Updated at: Nov 24,2021

The human body is made up of cells, which need fuel to function. And glucose is that fuel. But, if it cannot enter the cells, which is the case in diabetes, then your body turns to fat to get energy. In the process of burning fat for energy, a chemical is released called ketone. When there is an excess amount of ketone buildup, it causes diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition, in which the patient might end up in a state of coma or even die. So what is this condition, who all are at greater risk, what is the treatment like, and is there a way to prevent it? To get answers to these questions, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dr Gaurav Palikhe, Consultant, Endocrinology, Paras Hospitals, Panchkula.

Dr Palikhe describes diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, as a “life-threatening condition” that might happen in people with diabetes when there is a buildup of ketone in the blood. This happens because the body needs insulin for glucose to enter the cells. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas. Since in those suffering from diabetes, insulin is either present in faint amounts or there is a complete lack of it, hence, their bodies turn to fat and break it down for energy. This leads to the accumulation of ketones along with high sugar levels, thus leading to excess acid, thus leading to diabetic ketoacidosis. 

Symptoms Of Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

While suffering from DKA, the patient experiences the following symptoms:

  • Getting thirsty frequently
  • Frequent urination, including during the night
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • Tiredness
  • Having trouble thinking clearly
  • Having breath that smells sweet or fruity
  • Weight loss

Causes Behind Diabetic Ketoacidosis

There are many cases that can lead to DKA, such as:

  • Due to missing an insulin dose
  • Major illnesses like heart attack or infection, such as COVID-19
  • If you are on insulin pump therapy, then a malfunctioning pump or blocked tubing can lead to this condition
  • Newly diagnosed severe diabetes

So, these are some of the cases that can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Hence, you must try to steer clear of these situations as much as you can to avoid suffering from DKA.

Also read: Ozone Therapy Is Effective For Diabetes patients, Expert Shares Details

What Happens In The Body In The Case Of Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

As you already know there is an excess amount of ketone buildup in the case of diabetic ketoacidosis. The blood sugar levels also get high. These two factors can lead to:

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte disturbances
  • Excess acid in the body
  • This, if left untreated, ultimately leads to multiorgan dysfunction and death, Dr Palikhe said.

Risk Factors For Diabetic Ketoacidosis

DKA, just like any other disease, has associated risk factors. This means there are some people who are at a greater risk of suffering from this condition than others. Following are some of the risk factors for diabetic ketoacidosis:

  • Those who have discontinued insulin treatment are at a greater risk.
  • New-onset severe diabetes
  • Certain acute illnesses can also lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Such diseases include stroke, heart attack, pneumonia, COVID-19, etc.
  • Using drugs, such as cocaine, can also lead to DKA.

If you experience any symptoms associated with diabetic ketoacidosis, consult your doctor immediately, as only he/she can manage the condition. The doctor might put you on intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and insulin along with treatment of precipitating factors (such as an infection) and supportive care.

Also read: From Getting Diagnosed To Educating Others: Read Sahil's Journey Of Living With Type-1 Diabetes

How To Prevent Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Dr Palikhe suggested the following ways to prevent DKA:

  • You must take insulin as directed by your doctor.
  • Go for a regular checkup to keep your blood sugar level in check.
  • Follow the sick-day guideline when not feeling well. This guideline basically means you should not completely stop taking insulin when sick but decrease dosage according to intake. Also, monitor your blood glucose level regularly(at least 6 hourly) during these days along with blood or urine ketones. 
  • Keep yourself hydrated with calorie-free liquids.
  • If blood or urine ketones are positive with a high blood sugar level, you should immediately seek medical help. 

Managing diabetes can be exhausting, but it is extremely crucial to avoid diabetes-related complications. DKA, as you already know, is a life-threatening condition, hence you must try to avoid situations that can lead to it in the first place. However, if you start experiencing symptoms, you must consult your doctor immediately. 

(With inputs from Dr Gaurav Palikhe, Consultant, Endocrinology, Paras Hospitals, Panchkula)

Photo Credit: Freepik


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