Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes mellitus. Signs and symptoms may include vomiting, abdominal pain, deep gasping breathing, increased urination, weakness, confusion and occasionally loss of consciousness. A person's breath may develop a specific "fruity" smell. Onset of symptoms is usually rapid. People without a previous diagnosis of diabetes may develop DKA as the first obvious symptom.
DKA happens most often in those with type 1 diabetes but can also occur in those with other types of diabetes under certain circumstances. Triggers may include infection, not taking insulin correctly, stroke and certain medications such as steroids. DKA results from a shortage of insulin; in response, the body switches to burning fatty acids, which produces acidic ketone bodies. DKA is typically diagnosed when testing finds high blood sugar, low blood pH and ketoacids in either the blood or urine.
The primary treatment of DKA is with intravenous fluids and insulin. Depending on the severity, insulin may be given intravenously or by injection under the skin. Usually, potassium is also needed to prevent the development of low blood potassium. Throughout treatment, blood sugar and potassium levels should be regularly checked. Antibiotics may be required in those with an underlying infection. In those with severely low blood pH, sodium bicarbonate may be given; however, its use is of unclear benefit and typically not recommended.
Rates of DKA vary around the world. In the United Kingdom, about 4% of people with type 1 diabetes develop DKA each year, while in Malaysia the condition affects about 25% of type 1 diabetics a year. DKA was first described in 1886 and, until the introduction of insulin therapy in the 1920s, it was almost universally fatal. The risk of death with adequate and timely treatment is around 1–4%.