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Short term/acute complications of Diabetes

Diabetic Ketoacidosis:

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious condition that can lead to diabetic coma (passing out for a long time) or even death.

When your cells don't get the glucose they need for energy, your body begins to burn fat for energy, which produces ketones. Ketones are chemicals that the body creates when it breaks down fat to use for energy. The body does this when it doesn’t have enough insulin to use glucose, the body’s normal source of energy. When ketones build up in the blood, they make it more acidic. This is a warning sign that your diabetes is out of control or that you are getting sick.

Treatment for DKA takes place in the hospital. But you can help prevent it by learning the warning signs and checking your urine and blood regularly.

What are the Warning Signs of DKA?

DKA usually develops slowly. But when vomiting occurs, this life-threatening condition can develop in a few hours. Early symptoms include the following:

  • Thirst or a very dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • High blood glucose (blood sugar) levels
  • High levels of ketones in the urine

Other symptoms are:

  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Dry or flushed skin
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
    (Vomiting can be caused by many illnesses, not just ketoacidosis. If vomiting continues for more than 2 hours, contact your health care provider.)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fruity odor on breath
  • A hard time paying attention, or confusion

Ketoacidosis (DKA) is dangerous and serious. If you have any of the above symptoms, contact your health care provider IMMEDIATELY, or go to the nearest emergency room of your local hospital.

How Do I Check for Ketones?

You can detect ketones with a simple urine test using a test strip, similar to a blood-testing strip. Ask your health care provider when and how you should test for ketones. Many experts advise to check your urine for ketones when your blood glucose is more than 240 mg/dl.

When you are ill (when you have a cold or the flu, for example), check for ketones every 4 to 6 hours. And check every 4 to 6 hours when your blood glucose is more than 240 mg/dl.

Also, check for ketones when you have any symptoms of DKA.

What If I Find Higher-than-normal Levels of Ketones?

Contact your doctor at once if you find high levels of ketones.

Do NOT exercise when your urine tests show ketones.

Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic Nonketotic Syndrome (HHNS)

Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome, or HHNS, is a serious condition that can happen to people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes that is not being controlled properly. HHNS is usually brought on by something else, such as an illness or infection.

In HHNS, blood sugar levels rise, and your body tries to get rid of the excess sugar by passing it into your urine. You make lots of urine at first, and you have to go to the bathroom more often. Later you may not have to go to the bathroom as often, and your urine becomes very dark. If HHNS continues, the severe dehydration will lead to seizures, coma and eventually death. HHNS may take days or even weeks to develop. Know the warning signs of HHNS.

What are the Warning Signs?

  • Blood sugar level over 600 mg/dl
  • Dry, parched mouth
  • Extreme thirst (although this may gradually disappear)
  • Warm, dry skin that does not sweat
  • High fever (over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, for example)
  • Sleepiness or confusion
  • Loss of vision
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • Weakness on one side of the body

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.

How Can I Avoid It?

HHNS only occurs when diabetes is uncontrolled. The best way to avoid HHNS is to check your blood sugar regularly. Check your blood sugar as frequently as advised by your doctor. You should also talk with your health care team about your target blood sugar range and when to call if your blood sugars are too high, or too low and not in your target range.