Causes of diabetic ketoacidosis 

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of diabetes that can occur if the body starts to run out of insulin.

Insulin enables the body to use blood sugar (glucose). If there is a lack of insulin, or if it can't be used properly, the body will break down fat instead.

The breakdown of fat releases harmful, acidic substances called ketones, and the lack of insulin in your body leads to high blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia).

The combination of high ketone and blood sugar levels can cause a number of symptoms that can be very serious if the levels aren't corrected quickly. Read more about the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis.

High levels of ketones and blood sugar can be detected in your blood or urine using self-testing devices or kits. It's important to monitor your levels regularly if you have type 1 diabetes, so you can spot any potential problems early on. 

Read more about preventing diabetic ketoacidosis.

Diabetic ketoacidosis triggers

Common triggers for the reduction in insulin levels leading to diabetic ketoacidosis include:

  • an underlying infection – such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), gastroenteritis, flu or pneumonia 
  • missed insulin treatment  this may be because you find it difficult to use your insulin injectors, there's a problem with your injector or pump, your treatment regimen has recently changed, or you're intentionally not treating yourself
  • previously undiagnosed diabetes (usually type 1 diabetes)

Less common triggers include taking certain medications (such as corticosteroids), using illegal drugs, binge drinking, and having a stroke or heart attack.

Page last reviewed: 23/04/2015

Next review due: 23/04/2017