Diabetic ketoacidosis, sometimes called DKA, is a condition caused when you have a high blood sugar level, and not enough insulin in your body to break it down to use for energy.
As a result, the body starts burning its stores of fat for energy instead. This process produces by-products called ketones. As the level of ketones in the body increases, it can lead to dehydration and confusion. If not treated, people with ketoacidosis can become unconscious.
DKA is usually caused by an infection or illness, making you produce more hormones that mean insulin doesn’t work so well. Sometimes it’s caused if you miss taking your insulin.
DKA usually occurs in people with type 1 diabetes. It is rare in type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include high blood glucose, high levels of ketones in the urine, and:
- quick breathing or difficulty breathing
- flushed cheeks
- abdominal pain
- breath that smells like sweet acetone (similar nail polish remover)
- feeling very thirsty
- urinating a lot
- muscle cramps
- drowsiness or coma
DKA is a serious condition that requires immediate assessment. If someone you know has diabetes and becomes confused or unconscious, or has the symptoms listed above, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
If you have diabetes and you find your blood sugar level is higher than it should be, it’s important that you follow the advice provided by your doctor or diabetes nurse or educator. You may also find it useful to read the advice provided in the article on hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar).
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Last reviewed: November 2019