the hidden dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis


As a low-carber, you're aware of the positive impacts that a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet has on the body. The keto diet is incredibly helpful in the prevention and management of a whirlwind of conditions, such as epilepsy, mood disorders, and diabetes. While monitoring ketone levels is a vital part of tracking your progress, for diabetic dieters, it's crucial. While a low-carb lifestyle helps lower blood sugar and treat insulin resistance, maintaining proper ketone levels ensures that you don't go too far, helping you stay in a healthy ketogenic state. Make sure that you never confuse ketosis with diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous, potentially deadly condition. Here's helpful information on the ideal ketone levels that diabetic dieters should maintain, what ketoacidosis is, and how you can easily prevent it by following a low-carb diet safely and effectively.

Ketones & Diabetes

When your body is unable to use glucose as its primary energy source, ketones are naturally produced. Ketones are essentially broken-down fat, and when you're following a low-carb diet, your body will be burning that fat for energy instead of glucose. While this is great in the short-term, ketone levels will go up and down as you eat, exercise, and go about daily life. If you don't monitor them, there's a possibility that ketone levels could become dangerously high, which is when diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can occur. While ketosis itself is a healthy, natural state for the human body, ketoacidosis is not, and it can be potentially life-threatening. Measuring ketone levels regularly, sticking to your self-management plan, and knowing the proper numbers to maintain is the key to avoiding ketoacidosis.

When measuring ketone levels, consider the type of diabetes that you've been diagnosed with, as that makes a huge difference in the measurements you'll see. Ketones are more common in type 1 diabetes than type 2, for instance, so your readings will differ as well. You could notice high glucose readings for a number of reasons unrelated to your diet, such as missing insulin injections or becoming ill. As long as you're healthy and active, however, the readings will be quite accurate, and many doctors recommend monitoring them to help make self-management easier, especially for type 1 diabetics.

Ideal Ketone Levels for Diabetics

While ketone levels will vary slightly depending on your body type, exercise habits, and individual goals, here's a generalized guide of what to expect. Getting a reading that's too far above these levels is what results in ketoacidosis, which I'm going to describe in detail next.

Below 0.6 mmol/L

Readings below this number are in the normal range, so you're on the right track. Continue following your regular diet habits, along with a healthy diabetes management program developed by your doctor. When your readings stay in this range, you're on the track to safe, healthy, and effective self-management.

Between 0.6 and 1.5 mmol/L

Once your readings start getting higher, you're at risk for developing a problem. With a blood glucose reading of 13.9 mmol/L or higher, you should seek your doctor's advice on what to do next. He or she will help you get back on track, further tailoring your diabetes management program and helping lower ketone levels to a healthier number.

Above 1.5 mmol/L

This reading signifies danger, putting you at risk of developing dangerous diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). If you ever have this reading, see your doctor immediately. Since DKA can be potentially deadly, waiting for your ketone levels to go down simply isn't worth the risk. Again, you could have come down with the cold or flu, missed a few injections, or switched up your exercise routine, which can also result in higher-than-average readings. Once the number gets this high, however, you risk much more severe dangers.

What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis, and Why Is It So Dangerous?

When ketones are allowed to build up within the blood, they become acidic, causing diabetic symptoms to spin out of control, and making diabetes sufferers incredibly sick. High ketone levels poison the body, and once they reach a certain point, you are no longer in a state of healthy, natural ketosis. Instead, your body is slowly poisoning itself. The condition can happen to anyone with diabetes, but it's most common amongst type 1 diabetes sufferers. For those with type 2, the condition is possible, but rare. If you do reach dangerously high ketone levels and sink into DKA, you'll need to get immediate hospital treatment. DKA can quickly lead to diabetic coma, and if it's allowed to continue, it becomes deadly. Knowing your ideal ketone levels, along with some helpful warning signs, is the best way to prevent this dangerous condition.

What Are the Warning Signs of Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

While DKA usually develops slowly, if you start noticing warning signs, especially vomiting, the condition can take hold within just a few hours. You'll usually notice a few symptoms first, and they might not seem that big a deal. Pay close attention to your body, however, as these symptoms will slowly worsen as the condition develops. If you do start vomiting or notice a combination of any of the below symptoms, head to the emergency room immediately, as DKA is indeed life-threatening. The quicker you notice the warning signs and take action, the quicker you can prevent the condition from taking control.

Early Warning Signs

  • Intense dry mouth

  • Frequent urination

  • High blood glucose levels

  • High ketone readings

Severe Warning Signs

  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain

  • Fruity odor on the breath

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Dry or flushed skin

  • Confusion, difficulty paying attention, and a lack of focus​

Keep in mind that while diabetic ketoacidosis is a dangerous, life-threatening condition, it's entirely avoidable. When you maintain your low-carb diet plan, exercise regularly, monitor ketone levels, and watch out for warning signs, you're on the path to good health. If you're new to the low-carb lifestyle and are starting the keto diet, speak to your doctor about the best way to begin, and know which ketone reading is best for your body's unique needs. As long as you maintain healthy habits, you're on your way to healthy, efficient, and safe diabetes self-management.

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