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Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious problem that can occur in people with diabetes if their body starts to run out of insulin.
This causes harmful substances called ketones to build up in the body, which can be life-threatening if not spotted and treated quickly.
This page covers:
Signs of DKA include:
DKA can also cause high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) and a high level of ketones in your blood or urine, which you can check for using home-testing kits.
Symptoms usually develop over 24 hours, but can come on faster.
Check your blood sugar level if you have symptoms of DKA.
If your blood sugar is 11mmol/L or over and you have a blood or urine ketone testing kit, check your ketone level.
If you do a blood ketone test:
If you do a urine ketone test, a result of more than 2+ means there's a high chance you have DKA.
Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department straight away if you think you have DKA, especially if you have a high level of ketones in your blood or urine.
DKA is an emergency and needs to be treated in hospital immediately.
Call your diabetes team or GP as soon as possible if you're not sure if you need emergency help – for example:
DKA is caused by a lack of insulin in the body, which causes the body to break down fat for energy. Ketones are released into the body as the fat is broken down.
If you have diabetes, certain things can make this more likely to happen, including:
In some cases there's no obvious trigger.
The following tips can help reduce your chances of getting DKA:
Contact your diabetes team or GP for advice if you find it hard to keep your blood sugar level down.
DKA is usually treated in hospital.
You'll also be closely monitored for any life-threatening problems that can occur, such as problems with the brain, kidneys or lungs.
You can leave hospital when you're well enough to eat and drink and tests show a safe level of ketones in your body. It's normal to stay in hospital for a couple of days.
Before leaving hospital, ask to speak to a diabetes nurse about why DKA occurred and what you can do to stop it happening again.