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Redmond Regional Medical Center

Diabetic Ketoacidosis


Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs when a person’s blood sugar (glucose) is too high because there is not enough insulin. Instead, the body starts to burn fat for energy. Fat is broken down into acids, causing acid levels to build up in the blood. These acids appear in urine and blood as ketones. DKA is a serious condition that can lead to coma or death if it is not promptly treated.


DKA is most often caused by uncontrolled type 1 diabetes and sometimes type 2 diabetes.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of DKA:


DKA may cause:

  • High blood glucose levels (greater than 250 mg per dL)
  • Dry mouth and skin
  • Thirst
  • Frequent urination

Call for emergency medical services right away if you have:

  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fruity breath odor
  • Rapid pulse


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A urine and/or blood test will be done to look for the presence of ketones.


DKA is treated with insulin and fluids. This may require treatment in an intensive care unit.

Insulin may be given by IV or injections. The insulin will immediately start reversing the cycle causing DKA. The insulin will let the body use glucose for fuel again. Fat will not be needed for fuel, so new ketones will not be made. The body will then be able to get rid of the extra ketones.

Fluids and electrolytes will also be given through IV to help your blood restore balance.

IV Being Placed in Hand
IV insertion
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You and your doctor will make a plan to manage your diabetes. These steps will also reduce the chance of DKA. Steps may include:

  • Take your insulin as recommended. Always have insulin available. Plan ahead for refills.
  • Monitor your blood glucose level as recommended, generally at least 3-4 times per day. Monitor more often when you are sick or you have high blood glucose levels.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
  • Check for ketones in your urine if you have a high blood glucose reading or are ill.
  • Create a sick day plan that may include changes in insulin dose and what to do if you are having trouble eating.
  • See your doctor if you have infection, cough, sore throat, or pain when you urinate.

If your blood glucose is high and you have moderate amounts of ketones in your urine:

  • Contact your doctor
  • Increase your insulin as recommended
  • Eat foods that are low in carbohydrates
  • Drink plenty of sugar-free and caffeine-free fluids
  • Do not exercise until your glucose is in balance again

Revision Information

  • American Diabetes Association

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

  • Canadian Diabetes Association

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated July 22, 2015. Accessed September 8, 2015.

  • Ketoacidosis (DKA). American Diabetes Association website. Available at: Updated March 18, 2015. Accessed September 8, 2015.

  • Westerberg D. Diabetic ketoacidosis: Evaluation and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2013;87(5):337-346.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Redmond Regional Medical Center does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.