Diabetic ketoacidosis is a build up of acids in your blood. It is a life-threatening complication of a lack of insulin. It may happen if you have type 1 diabetes. (It rarely happens if you have type 2 diabetes.) It is an emergency that must be treated right away. If ketoacidosis is not treated right away, it can cause diabetic coma or death.
Diabetic ketoacidosis happens when your body does not have enough insulin. Without insulin, sugars in the blood cannot move out of the blood and into your body’s cells, and so the cells burn fats instead of sugar for energy. The burning of fats makes byproducts called ketones. The ketones build up to dangerous levels in the blood. High blood sugar often happens at the same time as ketoacidosis because, without enough insulin, sugar builds up in the blood.
When ketoacidosis happens, it means that your diabetes is not in good control or you may be getting an infection. Ketoacidosis may occur even with proper treatment for diabetes when there is a change in your life such as:
Sometimes the diagnosis of diabetes is not made until ketoacidosis occurs. When you have type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops making insulin. When this happens, ketones can build up to a high level very fast. It may happen so fast that ketoacidosis symptoms are the first symptoms you ever have of diabetes.
If you have ketoacidosis, you may have these symptoms:
Symptoms of high blood sugar include:
The ketoacidosis symptoms leading to a diabetic coma usually happen gradually. In most cases it takes several hours to a couple of days for ketoacidosis to cause a diabetic coma.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history, review your symptoms, and examine you. Your provider will pay special attention to:
Your provider will do some tests to check the levels of sugar and other chemicals in your blood. Your provider will also order other lab tests, a chest X-ray, and an ECG.
Ketoacidosis needs to be treated right away. You usually need to be treated at a hospital.
Ketoacidosis will continue until the insulin and fluids have restored a balance of chemicals in your body. If ketoacidosis is not treated, it can be fatal. With treatment, you will usually recover in hours to days.
To help take care of yourself and prevent ketoacidosis, follow these guidelines:
Ask your healthcare provider when you should check for ketones. Be sure to follow his or her recommendations.
Call your healthcare provider right away if: