Last April marked my entry into my 39th year as a Type-1 Diabetic. I’d love to sound like an old sage; able to say that I’ve seen it all and done it all. But the reality is that Diabetes continues to throw me for a loop and never ceases to surprise me. The latest instance was getting my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and having my blood sugars skyrocket into the low 20’s as a result. Yesterday’s post and YouTube video covers that experience, if you haven’t had a chance to check it out.
Anyway, I was talking about the “incident” with some colleagues and when I mentioned the increased blood sugars, I made a point of commenting that, “At least I didn’t get any symptoms of ketoacidosis…,” which prompted the all-too-often puzzled look, accompanied by the question, “What the fuck is ketoacidosis???” If you don’t have Diabetes and have no one in the family, some of the jargon can get a little confusing. When people here the term “Keto,” they automatically associate it with ketogenix or the Keto diet. Believe me when I say that those are entirely different things and have nothing to do with Diabetes.
I guess I should by defining this bad boy, and will do so using a quote I found from a page on MedlinePlus, as its online medical encyclopedia provides the most accurate definition. It states, “Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a life-threatening problem that affects people with Diabetes. It occurs when the body starts breaking down fat at a rate that is much too fast. The liver processes the fat into a fuel called ketones, which causes the blood to become acidic.” Nice, eh? Kinda makes you think a type-1 Diabetic will turn into one of those acid-blooded xenomorphs from Aliens. Given the foul mood that strikes when blood gets that high, that’s not too far off the mark…
The problem is not the breaking down of fat into ketones. Ketones can be a good thing and are useful to the body as a source of fuel when its been too long since you last ate. The problem starts when ketones are built up too quickly. This is where you get ketoacidosis, or DKA, as I will refer to it as from here on in. Otherwise, I’ll give myself carpal tunnel trying to type out the full term throughout the post. And we wouldn’t want that, would we? Alright, I’ll quit rambling and get on with the actual material.
When your blood sugars get too high, you don’t have enough insulin in the body to compensate, which is why the body starts to produce ketones too quickly. Heavy buildup of ketones in the blood stream cause your blood to become acidic. Okay, this sounds a little to similar to what was already defined in the previous paragraphs, so maybe I’ll move on to symptoms. For some, DKA can be an early warning sign that they may be developing Diabetes. Contrary to some sources, people with either Type-1 or Type-2 can get DKA.
Some of the more common symptoms will include nausea and vomiting, bodily aches and pains, weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath and confusion. Let’s not forget the two symptoms that lead to what I call the “Diabetic cycle.” First, you’ll have excessive thirst, which is a symptom of DKA. So you’ll consume more water, which is important when you reach the DKA stage anyway. You’ll have frequent urination, which is also a symptom of DKA as the body is trying to spill out the excess ketones. You’ll drink more because you’re thirsty, which will aggravate and increase the frequent urination. Then you’ll drink more water. Wash, rinse and repeat. A lot. It’s annoying.
For the most part, bolusing to adjust your high blood sugars and consuming plenty of fluids, especially electrolytes, is important as at-home methods of treating DKA. You should consult your doctor if an increase of blood sugar fails to bring your blood sugars down for an extended period of time. The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking emergency care if you’re consistently above 16.7 mmol/L and are experience any and/or all of the symptoms mentioned in the previous paragraph.
DKA is some scary shit. Coming from someone who’s experienced it, it can be a surreal feeling, doubled over in pain and puking, blood sugars refusing to come down and literally feeling like you must be dying. But there’s plenty you can do to prevent it. Regular exercise is a big help. I may have mentioned that exercise is good in some of my previous posts. Test your blood sugars frequently and educate yourself properly so that you can make adjustments to your insulin, should you need to. Last but not least, don’t ignore high blood sugar and act on it immediately, should you get a high reading.
Lastly, DKA is one of those Diabetic side effects that can actually kill you, if you ignore it. Take ownership of your health, train through your endocrinologist and insulin pump trainers (if you’re on the pump) and exercise like your life depends on it. because it often will. Taking those steps will go a long way towards preventing DKA so that you don’t have too experience it’s horrific effects. ☯