A lot of people on the ketogenic diet often come across the notorious word “ketoacidosis” and wonder how it relates to ketosis. While Ketoacidosis sounds similar to ketosis, these are two very different things and should not be confused.
What is Ketoacidosis?
So what exactly is ketoacidosis and how does it affect the body? Ketoacidosis actually refers to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and is a very dangerous occurrence.
This life-threatening condition can happen due to extremely high levels of ketones and blood sugar in the body, which results in the blood becoming too acidic. This can alter the functioning of internal organs like the liver and kidneys, and requires immediate treatment.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis, on the other hand, is simply the unharmful presence of ketones. When on a low-carb or fasting diet, your body will naturally move into a metabolic state of ketosis which prompts your body to produce ketones when it burns fat.
While this means there will be a higher level of ketones in your blood, it’s not high enough to inhibit acidosis.
How Ketoacidosis Happens
So now you might wonder how ketoacidosis happens. While it’s for the most part caused by high measures of ketone bodies alongside uncontrolled hyperglycemia and metabolic acidosis, ketoacidosis most generally occurs because of an insulin inadequacy, as found in type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
When experiencing an insulin deficiency, the fat cells and liver are not able to listen to or receive the signals from insulin that there is excess energy. This in turn will compel the liver and fat cells to go into starvation mode, even after a hearty meal.
What happens next is the fat cells will push triglycerides into the blood to give other cells energy while the liver mobilizes stored glycogen and provides the body with ketones and sugar it doesn’t really need.
The result of all of this is that blood sugar rises to dangerous levels (also known as uncontrolled hyperglycemia) while ketones build up in the blood due to the lack of insulin efficiency. The excess of ketones and sugar will begin drawing water out of the tissues, into the blood, and exiting the body through urine.
Since your body now has less water in the blood due to frequent urination, the ketones make the blood too acidic which pushes the body into a metabolic acidosis state. This ultimately leaves the body unable to function properly which can cause many ketoacidosis symptoms.
Symptoms of Ketoacidosis
Ketoacidosis is something that develops quickly, usually within 24 hours or less. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain and vomiting.
People experiencing this condition will be dehydrated due to constant urination and have a higher heart rate, higher blood glucose levels, and low blood pressure.
Some symptoms aren’t as obvious as vomiting or drowsiness, and so some testing is necessary to determine if you’re experiencing them.
Testing for Ketoacidosis Symptoms
Some of the symptoms from above can be due to a variety of other conditions, and may not necessarily mean you are experiencing ketoacidosis. Before rushing to the hospital, test for the most common ketoacidosis symptoms.
Check if you are dehydrated
You can test for dehydration by pinching the skin on your forehead that is just above and between your eyebrows. Normally, the skin in this area will return to its original position after being pinched, but when mildly dehydrated, it will stay folded for less than 2 seconds.
Between 2-10 seconds means moderate dehydration, and staying folded for longer means the body is severely dehydrated.
Test your heart rate
To test your resting heart rate, first ensure that you are fully relaxed. You’ll want to check the pulse at your wrists by placing two fingers between the bone and tendon over the space located on the thumb side of the wrist.
Grab a watch or stopwatch and count how many heartbeats (or pulses) you feel for 15 seconds, and multiply that number by 4. This is your resting heart rate. So 25 beats in 15 seconds would give you a heart rate of 100 beats per minute.
Check your blood pressure
Unless you happen to have a blood pressure cuff lying around, it can be hard to check what your blood pressure is. You can tell if your blood pressure is low if you are experiencing some of these symptoms:
- Blurry vision
- Lack of concentration
Check blood sugar levels
If you have diabetes, it’s a good thing to have a blood sugar meter at hand. They are cheap and easy to find. All you have to is prick your finger and use a drop of blood to get a reading.
In case you don’t have a blood sugar meter, pay attention to these high blood sugar level symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- Blurry vision
- Frequent urination
- Lack of concentration
If you think you might be experiencing ketoacidosis, it’s important to check for these main symptoms. For quick treatment, start with adding a pinch of salt to a glass of water and see a doctor for further treatment.
The best way to prevent ketoacidosis is to ensure insulin efficiency. If you have adequate insulin and it’s functioning properly, your blood sugar and ketone levels will not build up in the blood leading to ketoacidosis.
You can help prevent insulin deficiency with a proper diet, such as the ketogenic diet, and exercise.
Ketoacidosis is a very serious issue, and can even become lethal. In most cases, however, it’s entirely preventable. It most often occurs when those with diabetes aren’t mindful of their blood sugar levels.
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 Adair R Gosmanov, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.E., Elvira O Gosmanova, M.D., F.A.S.N., and Abbas E Kitabchi, M.D., Ph.D., M.A.C.E. Hyperglycemic Crises: Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), And Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar State (HHS). South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-.