What is DKA?

It is always a good idea to have a plan in place to help keep blood sugars stable when we are sick – you can find a helpful checklist here, for those living with type 1 diabetes.

The main reason it is so important to have a plan or to follow a checklist is not only to recover from your illness quickly, but to prevent something called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (or DKA, for short).

DKA is a serious condition that can happen to someone living with type 1 diabetes. This occurs when your body cannot use the sugar in your bloodstream for fuel because there is not enough insulin available. In this case, the body will burn fat to use for energy. During the process of burning and breaking down fat, ketones are produced and build up in the blood stream which can be toxic.

Signs and symptoms of DKA:

  • very high blood sugars
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • fruity-smelling breath
  • abdominal pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • excessive thirst

Prevention and treatment of DKA:

  • Check your blood sugars at least every 4 hours
  • Check for ketones if your blood sugars are higher than 14mmol/L
  • If ketones are present, drink a lot of water or sugar-free fluid to stay hydrated.
    There are special types of meters that measure ketones in the blood (one example is the Precision Extra meter – it requires ketone test strips as well instead of the usual blood sugar test strips). Speak to your pharmacist, doctor, or diabetes educator to learn more.
  • Continue to take your insulin. As discussed in the checklist, you may need extra insulin, especially if ketones are present. To know how much more insulin to take speak with your doctor or diabetes educator in advance to come up with a plan!

Most importantly, know when to seek help. Go to the emergency room (ER) if:

  • you are unable to take your insulin
  • you have severe or frequent vomiting or diarrhea
  • you cannot eat or keep any fluids down
  • you have a fever lasting longer than 24 hours
  • you are very tired, short of breath, dizzy, or in a lot of pain



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