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What is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)?

If your body does not have enough insulin, it can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be a serious life-threatening condition.
Content last reviewed and updated: 07.11.2023

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs when a severe lack of insulin means the body cannot use glucose for energy and starts to break down fat instead. Organic compounds called ketones are the by-product of the breakdown of fat and, if left unchecked, can build up and cause the blood to become acidic.

The main symptoms of of DKA

The NHS describes the main symptoms of DKA as:

  • feeling thirsty
  • needing to pee more often
  • stomach pain, feeling sick or being sick
  • diarrhoea
  • breathing more deeply than usual
  • breath that smells fruity (like pear drop sweets or nail polish remover)
  • feeling tired, sleepy or confused
  • blurred vision

What should I do?

If you are experiencing these symptoms you must call 999. DKA is very serious and can be fatal.

How to reduce your risk of DKA

DKA can occur when you’re ill, stressed, during a growth spurt or puberty, or if you haven’t taken enough insulin.

Monitoring your ketone levels can help you to detect high ketone levels and seek medical attention.

Find out more about ketones and how to monitor them.

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