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Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

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Updated January 12, 2009

Definition:

Diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, is a serious and possibly life-threatening condition that results from not having enough insulin. Those with type 1 diabetes are at risk for developing DKA because their bodies do not produce enough insulin to process the glucose (sugar) they take in from the food they eat.

Glucose is the main source of energy for all bodily functions. Because there is not enough insulin to process the glucose, the body is literally starving, which helps explain the extreme fatigue people with DKA experience. When glucose is not available, the body naturally looks for an alternate source of energy in stored body fat. As fat is burned, it produces ketones -- a toxin that poisons the body.

DKA is most likely to occur in the early stage of type 1 diabetes before a diagnosis is made, during periods of sickness or when too little insulin is taken.

Symptoms include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • a rapid and weak pulse
  • abdominal pain
  • breath that has a fruity odor
  • labored breathing
  • low blood pressure

DKA is considered a medical emergency. When any of the above symptoms are accompanied by 2 or more glucose readings over 300 mg/dl, consultation with a doctor is advised. The immediate treatment involves rehydration of lost fluids and the administration of insulin.

Pronunciation: key-toe-acid-oh-sis
Also Known As: DKA
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