Diabetic Ketoacidosis Symptoms

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

The body's cells need two energy requirements to function. The blood stream delivers both oxygen and glucose to the front door of the cell. The the oxygen is invited in, but the glucose needs a key to open the door. The insulin molecule is that key. When we eat, the body senses the levels of glucose in the blood stream and secretes just the right amount of insulin from the pancreas so that cells and the body can function.

People with diabetes don't have the luxury of that auto-sensing. They need to balance the amount of glucose intake with the amount of insulin that needs to be injected. Not enough insulin and the glucose levels in the blood stream start to rise; too much insulin, and they plummet.

The consequences of hypoglycemia (hypo=low, glycemia=glucose in the blood) are easy to understand. No energy source, no function - and the first organ to go is the brain. It needs glucose to function and without it, the brain shuts down quickly. Confusion, lethargy, and coma occur quickly. It's interesting that brain cells don't need insulin to open their doors to glucose, so when people develop coma from low blood sugar, they waken almost instantaneously upon treatment. Blood sugar is one of the first things checked on scene of a comatose patient, because it's so easy to fix and very embarrassing for an EMT to miss.

And sometimes, too much - is too much. High blood glucose levels, or hyperglycemia, cause a cascade of effects that are damaging to the body in the short and long-term. In the long-term, abnormally high blood sugar causes damage to blood vessels leading to a variety of potential catastrophes; including but not limited to any system that has a blood supply, potentially leading to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputations. Add the increased risk of infection associated with hyperglycemia and there is great incentive to keep blood sugars tightly under control.