What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

insulin

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  • When you are sick, the body can produce higher levels of hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol. However, these hormones are known to counteract insulin's effects, and sometimes lead to diabetic ketoacidosis
  • The risk for diabetic ketoacidosis is higher among Type 1 diabetes patients, although this complication can also manifest in people with type 2 diabetes, albeit rarely

Diabetics may develop a complication called diabetic ketoacidosis,1,2 which begins when the body fails to produce enough insulin.

Insulin is a key player in helping sugar or glucose — a major energy source for muscles and other tissues — to enter the cells. Lack of insulin triggers the body to break down fat as fuel instead, resulting in a buildup of ketones in the bloodstream and causing it to “spill over” into the urine. If this situation is unresolved, diabetic ketoacidosis may develop.

What Causes Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

An infection or illness is considered the main trigger of diabetic ketoacidosis. When you are sick, the body can produce higher levels of hormones like adrenaline or cortisol. However, these hormones are known to counteract insulin's effects, and sometimes lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.

Specific illnesses that can be precursors to diabetic ketoacidosis include pneumonia and urinary tract infections. Meanwhile, other possible triggers of diabetic ketoacidosis include:3,4

Physical or emotional trauma

Heart attacks

Alcohol or drug abuse, particularly cocaine

Medications like corticosteroids and some diuretics

A clog in the pump (usually for people using an infusion pump)5

Insufficient food intake, especially when you’re sick and do not have any appetite (this can result in high ketone levels)

Skipping meals


Risk Factors of Diabetic Ketoacidosis

The risk for diabetic ketoacidosis is higher among Type 1 diabetics, although this complication can also manifest in people with Type 2 diabetes, albeit rarely. Furthermore, the following groups of people are known to have a higher risk for diabetic ketoacidosis:6,7

People below 18 years old

People who have had some form of emotional or physical trauma

People who are stressed

People who have a high fever

People who have had a heart attack or stroke

Smokers

People who have a drug or alcohol addiction


Diabetic ketoacidosis can also develop in 16 to 80 percent of children who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes. Even worse, it’s the most common cause of death among young Type 1 diabetics . This is because diabetic ketoacidosis is known to cause cerebral edema or swelling of the brain, which can eventually lead to the patient’s death.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is touted as a medical emergency, because if left untreated, it can lead to a coma or even death. If you or someone you know exhibits symptoms of this complication, consult a doctor immediately.8,9

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