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Search Health Information    Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a life-threatening blood chemical (electrolyte) imbalance that develops in a person with diabetes when the cells do not get the sugar (glucose) they need for energy. As a result, the body breaks down fat instead of glucose and produces and releases substances called ketones into the bloodstream.

People with type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes are at risk for DKA if they do not take enough insulin, have a severe infection or other illness, or become severely dehydrated.

Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include:

  • Flushed, hot, dry skin.
  • A strong, fruity breath odor.
  • Restlessness, drowsiness, or difficulty waking up. Young children may lack interest in their normal activities.
  • Rapid, deep breathing.
  • Loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
  • Confusion.

Severe diabetic ketoacidosis can cause difficulty breathing, brain swelling (cerebral edema), coma, or death.

Treatment involves giving insulin and fluids through a vein and closely monitoring and replacing electrolytes.

Last Revised: June 24, 2013

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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