Most people with diabetes are familiar with at least some of the disease’s complications, like nerve damage, vision problems, and cardiovascular disease. But have you ever heard of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)? This diabetes complication which can be prevented can do more harm than you might think and, if left untreated, it can even be deadly.
Tragically, DKA appears to be on the rise in recent years. Between 2009 and 2014, hospitalizations related to the condition increased by 54.9% in the United States. With that in mind, it’s essential to know what this diabetes complication is, how to lower your risk of dealing with it, and what to do if you notice DKA symptoms. The CDC report states that “DKA is more common among persons with type 1 diabetes, but it also occurs among persons with type 2 diabetes”. Read on for the ADS guide to diabetic ketoacidosis.
What Causes Diabetic Ketoacidosis?
Diabetic ketoacidosis has close links to low insulin and high blood sugar. Typically, cells rely on insulin to access blood glucose, which they use as a source of fuel. But when a person’s diabetes isn’t under control, that can be challenging or even impossible. When they need an alternative fuel source, cells can break body fat down into acidic ketones. That can lead to a person’s blood becoming acidic, as well – and it should come as no surprise to learn that this can have serious consequences.
Many factors can play a role in DKA, such as insufficient insulin doses, clogged insulin pumps, illness or infection, physical or emotional stress, and the use of drugs (including nicotine and alcohol). People under the age of 19 have an increased risk of DKA, too.
DKA is often thought of as a type 1 diabetes complication, and it can even be the first sign of this illness. People with type 2 diabetes aren’t immune to this complication, either – especially if they’re sick, missed one or more doses of medication, or have had trouble controlling their blood sugar for a while. However, diabetic ketoacidosis is not nearly as common in type 2 diabetes and is often less severe.
Know the Symptoms of DKA
While people with diabetes can’t afford to ignore the possibility of diabetic ketoacidosis, look out for these symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dryness of the skin or mouth
- Speedy breathing
- Fruit-scented breath
- Fatigue or weakness
- Heightened levels of blood sugar or ketones in the urine
Along with these signs, DKA can cause “traditional” diabetes symptoms like extreme thirst and frequent urination.
How You Can Prevent Diabetic Ketoacidosis
If you have type 1 diabetes and are worried about your risk of DKA, the good news is that lowering your risk isn’t too tricky. The best place to start is making an extra effort to keep your diabetes in check.
Whether or not you’re trying to reduce your risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, check your blood glucose level three or four times daily at a minimum. That way, you can see if this level is within your target range and respond if it should be higher or lower. Along with this, try to eat a healthy diet and get the exercise you need.
Have you noticed possible symptoms of DKA, or are you feeling sick or stressed? If so, testing your urine for ketones might help. You can buy ketone testing kits over the counter – follow the instructions included with your kit to measure your ketone level. If it’s high or moderate, look for emergency assistance or talk to your healthcare team. On the other hand, you can deal with low ketone levels by upping your insulin dose.
All About Treating DKA
DKA is a medical emergency, so it’s crucial to get treatment for this condition. That usually means going to the hospital, where you might receive fluid replacement, insulin, or electrolyte replacement.
Surprisingly, some of the most common complications of diabetic ketoacidosis are linked to the same steps used to treat this condition. That doesn’t mean you should avoid treatment, as these complications are far less risky than leaving DKA unchecked. Still, it’s wise to be aware of potential issues like:
- AKA “swelling of the brain.” This can be triggered by a rapid change in your blood sugar level, which getting insulin in response to DKA symptoms might cause. It’s most commonly observed in children.
Hypokalemia/low potassium levels
- Treatments for DKA can cut down on your amount of potassium – and that can lead to issues with the heart, muscles, and nerves, among other problems. You may receive potassium and other electrolytes as part of your treatment to prevent this.
Hypoglycemia/low blood sugar
- While insulin may cause cerebral edema, a rapidly-falling blood sugar level can be an issue in and of itself.
Let Us Help You Control Your Blood Sugar
Diabetic ketoacidosis can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence if you look out for its symptoms and get proper treatment ASAP. Better yet, now that you know a bit more about DKA, you can take simple steps to cut down on your risk of experiencing this condition.
Since monitoring your blood glucose level is vital for reducing your likelihood of DKA, it pays to choose a diabetes supply company you can trust. ADS can keep you well-stocked with glucose meters, diabetes testing supplies, and everything else you need to monitor your blood sugar closely!