High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) occur when your
blood sugar (also called glucose) is higher than your body needs to function
normally. High blood sugar levels can cause both immediate and long-term
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a
life-threatening blood chemical (electrolyte) imbalance that develops in a
person with diabetes when the cells do not get the sugar they need for energy.
As a result, the body breaks down fat instead of glucose and produces and
releases substances called
ketones into the bloodstream.
type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk for
DKA if they do not take enough insulin, have a severe infection or other
illness, or become severely dehydrated.
Symptoms of diabetic
Flushed, hot, dry skin.
fruity breath odor.
Loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and
Drowsiness or difficulty waking up. Young children may lack
interest in their normal activities.
Severe diabetic ketoacidosis can cause difficulty
breathing, brain swelling (cerebral edema), coma, or death. Prompt medical
evaluation and treatment are needed if symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis are
Treatment involves giving insulin and fluids through a
vein and closely monitoring and replacing electrolytes.
Your risk of
complications increases if your blood sugar levels are
often above your
target level. Persistently high blood sugar can damage
blood vessels and nerves.
Damage to small blood vessels
(microvascular disease) can lead to loss of vision, kidney disease, and nerve
problems throughout the body.
Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) can decrease or completely block the movement of nerve
impulses or messages through organs, legs, arms, and other parts of the body.
Nerve damage can affect your internal organs and your ability to feel pain when
you are injured.
If your episodes of high blood sugar levels are occurring
more frequently, a visit to your doctor is needed.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.