Type 2 Diabetes: Ketoacidosis

What is ketoacidosis, and how do you treat it?

Ketoacidosis -- also known as diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA -- occurs when harmfully high levels of ketones build up in the blood.

Ketones are an acid produced when there's a shortage of insulin in the blood and the body is forced to break down fat, rather than glucose, for energy. Ketones can spill over into the urine when the body doesn't have enough insulin, and the effects can be deadly.

The symptoms of ketoacidosis

  • Blood sugar level higher than 300 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
  • Difficulty breathing, rapid breath, or shortness of breath
  • Breath that smells fruity
  • A very dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme fatigue, drowsiness, or weakness
  • Rapid heartbeat and low blood pressure

How to treat ketoacidosis

Ketoacidosis is an emergency condition that requires immediate attention. Call 911 or take the person you're caring for to the nearest hospital.

How to prevent ketoacidosis

  • Make sure the person you're caring for drinks plenty of water so he stays hydrated and can flush the ketones out of his system.
  • Check for ketones by doing a simple urine test. Test strips are available over the counter.
  • Tell him to refrain from exercise if his blood glucose is 250 mg/dL or higher and ketones are present in his urine.
  • Remind him to check his blood glucose often and to immediately report any sky-high readings to his main diabetes care provider.


Sarah Henry

Sarah Henry has covered health stories for most of her more than two decades as a writer, from her ten-year stint at the award-winning Center for Investigative Reporting to her staff writer position with Hippocrates magazine to her most recent Web work for online sites, including WebMD, Babycenter. See full bio