What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

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Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life threatening condition that all diabetics are susceptible to and is brought on by a deficiency of insulin. Type 1 diabetics are more likely to suffer from this condition, but all diabetics should be aware of its symptoms and life-threatening affects. The mortality rate is about two percent of the people who get it.


Ketoacidosis occurs when glucose cannot be used as an energy source by the cells of the body, or when endogenous sources of energy are not available. When this happens the body will begin to break down fats and proteins for it energy source, in effect cannibalizing itself to survive. This leads to ketosis, which is an abnormal accumulation of ketones caused by metabolism of fatty acids for energy with little carbohydrate metabolism taking place. This can cause a rapid decrease in blood pH resulting in ketoacidosis and a dumping of ketone bodies into the urine.

This condition results in hyperglycemia that causes osmotic diuresis, leads to dehydration, and precipitates lactic acidosis. Lowered pH, resulting from the acidosis, stimulates the respiratory center and produces deep, rapid respirations known as Kussmaul's respirations. Large amounts of ketone bodies in the body also produce a fruity or acetone odor on the breath. For many people unfamiliar with this condition it may actually smell as if the person has been drinking alcohol.

If the ketoacidosis in the diabetic is not recognized and treated quickly, the acidosis and dehydration can disrupt heart activity and oxygen transport. It will also severely depress the central nervous system which leads to loss of consciousness and possibly coma and death. Other symptoms that may occur before a loss of consciousness include lethargy, nausea, muscle aches, rapid breathing (Kussmaul's respirations), low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, difficulty catching ones breath, and dehydration. Other life threatening conditions brought about by this condition include kidney failure and heart attacks.

Aside from an insulin deficiency there are several other common conditions that can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. These include over eating, infection and other stresses such as trauma, surgery, emotional stress and heart attack.

It is important for anyone with diabetes to be aware of the warning signs of diabetic ketoacidosis. Consulting with one primary care physician is the first step to understanding this condition and taking the proper steps to avoid it affects. By following a sound diabetic diet plan and treatment regiment the chances of suffering from ketoacidosis are greatly diminished. But even then anyone with diabetes should remain ever vigilant against this potentially fatal condition.

By: Andrew Bicknell

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