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04 January 2007
What Is Ketoacidosis?

Ketoacidosis (key-toe-ass-i-DOE-sis) is a serious condition that can lead to diabetic coma (passing out for a long time) or even death. Ketoacidosis may happen to people with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes.

Ketoacidosis does not occur in people with type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. But some people -- especially older people -- with type 2 diabetes may experience a different serious condition. It's called hyperosmolar nonketotic coma (hi-per-oz-MOE-lar non- key-TOT-ick KO-ma). This page is not about this condition.

Ketoacidosis means dangerously high levels of ketones. Ketones are acids that build up in the blood. They appear in the urine when your body doesn't have enough insulin. Ketones can poison the body. They are a warning sign that your diabetes is out of control or that you are getting sick.

Treatment for ketoacidosis usually takes place in the hospital. But you can help prevent ketoacidosis by learning the warning signs and testing your urine and blood regularly.
What Are The Warning Signs Of Ketoacidosis?

Ketoacidosis usually develops slowly. But when vomiting occurs, this life-threatening condition can develop in a few hours. The first symptoms are:

  • Thirst or a very dry mouth.

  • Frequent urination.

  • vHigh blood-sugar levels.
  • High levels of ketones in the urine.

  • Next, other symptoms appear:

  • Constantly feeling tired.

  • Dry or flushed skin.

  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain (Vomiting can be caused by many illnesses, not just ketoacidosis. If vomiting continues for more than 2 hours, contact your health-care practitioner.)

  • A hard time breathing (short, deep breaths).

  • Fruity odour on breath.

  • A hard time paying attention, or confusion.

  • Ketoacidosis is dangerous and serious. If you have any of the above symptoms, contact your health-care practitioner IMMEDIATELY, or go to the nearest emergency room of your local hospital.
    How Do You Know If You Have Large Amounts Of Ketones?

    A simple urine test can detect ketones. You use a test strip, like a blood-testing strip. Ask your health-care practitioner when and how you should test for ketones. Many experts advise to check your urine for ketones when your blood sugar is more than 240 mg/dl.

    When you are ill (when you have a cold or the flu, for example), test for ketones every 4 to 6 hours. And test every 4 to 6 hours when your blood sugar is more than 240 mg/dl.

    Also, test for ketones when you have any symptoms of ketoacidosis.
    What If You Find Higher-Than-Normal Levels Of Ketones?

    If your health-care practitioner has not told you what levels of ketones are dangerous, then call when you find moderate amounts after more than one test. Often, your health-care practitioner can tell you what to do over the phone.

    Call your health-care practitioner at once if:

  • Your urine tests show large ketones.

  • Your urine tests show large ketones and your blood-sugar level is high.

  • You have vomited more than twice in 4 hours and your urine tests show high ketones.

  • Do NOT exercise when your urine tests show ketones and your blood sugar is high. High levels of ketones and high blood sugars can mean your diabetes is out of control. Check with your health-care practitioner about how to handle this situation.
    What Causes Ketoacidosis?

    Ketones mean your body is burning fat to get energy. Moderate or large amounts of ketones in your urine are dangerous. They upset the chemical balance of the blood.

    Commonly, the flu, a cold, or other infections may sometimes bring on ketoacidosis.

    Here are three basic reasons for moderate or large amounts of ketones:

  • Not getting enough insulin.

  • Maybe you did not inject enough insulin. Or your body could need more insulin than usual because of illness. If there is not enough insulin, your body begins to break down body fat for energy.
  • Not enough food.

  • When people are sick, they often do not feel like eating. Then, high ketones may result. High ketones may also occur when someone misses a meal.
    An insulin reaction (low blood sugar).

    When blood-sugar levels fall too low, the body must use fat to get energy. If testing shows high ketones in the morning, the person may have had an insulin reaction while asleep.

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