The One Drop Guide to DKA

DKA: Diabetic Ketoacidosis

DKA. Not to be confused with the DKA (short for Dominique’s Kouign Amann) pastry, which is a bomb of deliciousness. The two DKAs have no direct correlation. But, oddly enough, diabetes DKA could definitely ensue if a person with diabetes were to eat the DKA pastry and not have the proper insulin reinforcements. So what is diabetes DKA? It’s a doozy.

DKA in the diabetes sense is diabetic ketoacidosis. It’s a mouthful. It can also be a life-threatening state. Roughly translated, it’s too much acid build-up (by way of ketones) in the blood. An actual, scientific translation? Ketone bodies (lots of them) acetone, acetoacetic acid, and beta-hydroxybutyric acid, all of which are acidic, flood the bloodstream.

How does that happen?

Exactly! How in the world could acid — acid! — flow like that in our veins?! Short answer: when there’s a major lack of insulin. Now, let’s break that down. When we don’t have the proper amount of insulin needed for our bodies, we’re unable to use glucose (sugar) properly for fuel. Glucose is the body’s #1 choice for fuel. Just as a car needs gasoline to go, we need glucose to go. There are other ways to fuel our bodies besides glucose, but glucose is the “cleanest” source for cellular energy.

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When our cells can’t access the sugar (that clean source of energy), they find other ways of fueling themselves. (They are pretty resourceful!) And the first alternative method? Fat. Our cells, when they can’t get the glucose they need, look to fat for fuel. When our bodies break down that fat, the fat turns into different acids, known as ketone bodies. Ketones are created and released into the bloodstream by the liver.

Our cells are hard at work getting the job done, so to speak. But, this kind of resourcefulness is counterproductive. When cells repurpose fat as fuel, all that acid starts building up. And (you might’ve already connected the dots here) acid build-up in the bloodstream is very, very bad. It’s also exactly what puts us into a diabetic ketoacidosis state.

What to do in a DKA state

Now you know the process and how we got here. But what to do when you get here? Below, and linked here, find absolutely everything you need to know about DKA treatment. We’ve also got the signs and symptoms you should be looking for to know if you truly are in diabetic ketoacidosis.

Most importantly, if you do believe you are in DKA, call your doctor immediately and head to the nearest emergency room. But don’t worry! DKA happens to best of us. Once you’re feeling better and all your ketones are flushed out, work with your doctor to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You’ve got this. 💥

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Rachel Head CDE
Rachel Head CDE

Rachel Head is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, specializing in pediatric diabetes, diabetes technology, and the role of social media in disease management. Rachel became particularly interested in the behavioral aspect of diabetes management after working in a clinic whose primary patients were people living with diabetes. Upon realizing the the need for a more personalized approach to diabetes education, she focused on changing those tools to have a more impactful and individualized component. At One Drop, Rachel provides that behavioral-based method in her coaching and support as part of the Experts program. Rachel also volunteers with the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), where she currently serves as a Media Spokesperson and member of the 2017 Diabetes Technology Workgroup. Rachel previously served as Chair of the Arizona State Coordinating Body (2014-2015) and Co-Leader of the Diabetes Technology Community of Interest (2015). Rachel received her Bachelor of Science in Coordinated Dietetics from Texas Christian University in 2008, and became a Registered Dietitian the same year.