Diabetic Ketoacidosis – by Joanna Cawley

I haven’t been keeping up with my blog lately because a few months ago I was hospitalised with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) so I’ve had a fair bit of catching up at uni to do since then. But alas, exams are now over so my free time is once again mine to do with what I wish!

I’d never had DKA before so I didn’t recognise the warning signs. I was well in to what the recent Balance magazine guide to Meds & Kit (page 14) described as ‘the second stage’ of DKA when I was admitted to hospital. I began vomiting in the day, which continued despite that I hadn’t eaten and all I had drunk was water. I was waking up once an hour to vomit through the night and felt nauseous and weak. In the morning I was taken to my local hospital, which was actually closed so wasn’t taking in any patients. The doctor I saw insisted that I was treated immediately and though I was weak and dehydrated I remember another doctor wanting to refer me to a different hospital – which is about a half hours drive away – and the doctor’s words struck me even in my state. He said ‘If she has to be referred, it’ll be a 999 ambulance emergency, and she won’t make it’. I was later told that at the time I had been an hour from death.

This experience really scared me and the struggle to control my diabetes and stay healthy continues. Even though I had been trying to achieve stable blood sugars, I still fell in to the clutches of DKA completely unawares and I urge anyone reading this to be aware of the signs!

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  1. gemma says

    this happned to me last year i was an hour away from death as well infact they told my hubby to prepare for the worse i am still stuggling now i will notice the signs but even if my bloods go up a bit the breathlessness comes back so i know to get the insulin on but i have crap support form my health care providers i am scared it will happen again although i am fighting not to have it happen again

  2. gigglesigh says

    glad you’re ok.

  3. Leigh says

    DKA is terrifying. I was in a similar position myself; it was how my diabetes was diagnosed. The GP said it was constipation! It’s only because we called a locum out that I ended up in hospital, or I wouldn’t be here now.

  4. emma says

    I have had about 4 episodes of DKA, 3 times for water infections and one time for pneumonia. I never had any warning signs the 1st time and all the docs kept asking me was ‘are you sure yr not pregnant! It’s beggers belief. I was in a coma and came very close to not making it. Now I recognise the signs, but its not always yr fault 4 DKA we can’t help picking up bugs and the way our bodies all work differently!

  5. kelly says

    omg, i have been a diabetic since i was 8years old so 9 years now and i have never heard of DKA before but listening to what happen it reminds me of a time that hapoened to me so my mum called an smbulance and when they came they said i was fine and didnt take me into hospital, i wasnt fine as an hour after they had been to my house i started fitting and i dont remember the rest apart from waking up in hospital on a drip and i was about 11years old then. i keep asking myself why i have never been told about DKA as i am not very good at controlling my diabetes and i am on a animas pump and have been for 2years. i do as am told but giving the fact im 17 and female my body isnt cooperating. :) i think people need to be made more awate about DKA!!!

  6. Fawn says

    On my diagnosis of diabetes, i too was DKA, i had severe breathing problems, and had been suffering with constant urination and drinking for over two weeks. My vision was blurry, by the time i got to hospital i was told i was an hour from a coma and twenty four hours from death. I was petrified by this news and it was scary to think i wasn’t going to go to casualty that night. My mum had queried the GP, who didnt even see me and insisted it was only thrush. I think people need to be aware of signs because it seems you cannot trust GPs to spot it.

  7. Bethan says

    This happened to my boyfriend when he was diagnosed, it was such a scary time and he was told not to wait overnight to go to hospital, it just goes to show the daily struggle diabetes can be, and how diabetes itself isn’t the only worry, its everything else it throws at you! Good to hear that you are back on your feet though.

  8. Lisa says

    I’m really confused! I’ve had DKA a few times but somehow manage to “fix” it at home. I too get the confusion, vomiting, thirst, funny taste in my mouth and even got a ketone monitor to check the levels, but I take MASSIVE doses of insulin, drink as much water as I can and go to bed. I may dip in and out of consciousness for the day but it seems to work. Is it really as close to death as articles and doctors/nurses make out?

  9. Jan starchild says

    Im diabetic type 1 had it when i was diagnosed and it was scary since then ive been stable glad u r ok.

  10. Cathryn says

    My daughter is now 14 and on an insulin pump had this happen to her earlier this year, her dad and I found her fitting on her bed, she had bitten through her tongue quite severly so there was blood everywhere. It was the most awful thing to see your child like this, we just went into auto pilot and gave her an adrenalin shot but it took a lot out of her and a long time for her to feel well again. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone, ever. Fortunately my daughter doesn’t remember too much as she was pretty much unconscious. Really, really scary

  11. Helena ~Roberts says

    I have had Diabetes for over 40yrs i was 13 when diagnosed. I have never had DKA (that i can remember), even tho i have hardly looked after myself, which i am paying for know (loss of my sight in one eye and cataracs). To be honest i wouldn’t know the signs, I am so glad that you recovered (what treatment did they give you ?). I know enjoy low blood sugars and my health care providers are very good and they seem to be pleased with my progress. Stay healthy x

  12. noreen says

    I’ve been diabetic for 24yrs now, have been on Insulin pump since 2009 I’ve never had any problems with DKA untill 2yrs ago when i’d been addmitted into hospital twice within 3wks. The second time I’d got DKA I rang 999 but when they turned up they gave me the choice of staying at home or going in too A&E and telling me I’d have a 4hr wait, to me it seemed that they were putting me off going into hospital and did’nt think my condition was that serious. I made the choice of going into hospital as I felt so ill and my breathing was’nt right. When I was addmitted I went straight into the ward and put on a drip. Please don’t wait and think it will go away, it’s best to be safe than sorry. I just wished i’d made a note of the ambulance staff that did’nt want to take me into hospital. Dont be fobbed off. You know how ill you feel.

  13. Rachael Abbott says

    I too have suffered from DKA many times. At one time i was in and out of hospital every 6 weeks for a week or more for it. Thankfully I have not suffered now in years, but I know when I have ketones staight away. My doctor gave me urine test strips to detect ketones, which I use reguarly the moment I feel unwell. I recommend all diabetics frequantly use them as they take next to no time to use, but could save your life. Good health to all x

  14. Catherine says

    I had DKA about 5 years ago and even though the doctor called an ambulance, they wouldn’t take me because although I had the breathlessness, my oxygen levels were ‘acceptable’. Luckily my parents ended up taking me to A&E which undoubtedly saved my life. It was the scariest experience of my life knowing that I could be dying but getting no help.

  15. diabetic for 8 years says

    would you recommend to get the pump? I’m 14 and nervous about getting one :( xxx

  16. margaret fagan says

    i took a stroke 4yrs ago am left paralysed down left side, bout 4mnths ago i was diagnosed with type2 diabetas ive never heard of dika eithers im margaret btw my husband john has had type2 for 21yrs good luckto all good health

  17. Karen says

    I used to work as a Medical Device Trainer, and my last project was the introduction of Ketone meters at our local hospital. Only Abbott appear have them (Optium Xceed – http://www.abbottdiabetescare.com.au/insulin-meter-text.php), but when you find your blood sugars are high, then you can then go on to check your ketones. Can I suggest that you contact your Diabetic Specialist Nurses about them? People forget that DKA kills…

  18. Ally says

    I have been type 1 diabetic for almost 5 years (since I was 22) –
    I was diagnosed goodness knows how long after actually starting to suffer the initial symptoms – i had unexplained gradual weight loss for approx 3 years
    and then for about 4 months I was suffering with all the other symptoms thirst etc…..
    It was only after my 6th attempt at the doctors to find out what the reasons for this was I was tested for diabetes (on my request after a quick google search), the doctor left a message on my answer machine- the nurse told my then partner how “close” I had come having dka and being told all the info about type 1 and medication it was very overwhelming.

    I am now consideri ng asking doctor about pump any negative/positive experience with this?

  19. Amor Vida says

    I’ve got to say, it’s good to hear a story about the negative effects of diabetes, i mean i’m sorry of course that you were ill but usually when i read these blogs it’s all about how people are coping and not letting diabetes rule their life, that always makes me feel awful as i have also suffored from ketoacidosis before and I am currently having a hard time gaining control over my health. I still get breathless quite alot and am pathetically weak, i catch alot of infections and also i am being treated for depression. But recently I am trying to sort myself out, i’ve awlays wanted to travel and a few years ago had to cancel a trip to Africa due to the DKA which broke my heart if i’m honest. DKA was horrible, i wasn’t aware of the symptoms either and when i went to the doctors hardly able to breathe he told me i was having a panic attack and gave me diazipram (or whatever its called lol)!!! I was rushed into hospital later that night moments from death and had to spend a week in intensive care and the following month in bed. Unfortunatly i have never tried hard enough to regain my strength after that and stupidly i didn’t learn my lesson as i carried on eating whatever i wanted, whenever i wanted and failing to do my injections. But like i say, i’ve decided to change and reading how you’ve bounced back from your DKA has given me some hope and support to hope that i can do the same. Hope you are well xxx

  20. Daisy says

    Hi Joanna,

    Sorry to hear that you’ve been so unwell! DKA is scary – I’ve been admitted into hospital with it twice but have suffered from it several times. It’s awful because it can creep up on you slowly yet make you ill so quickly.
    I hope you’re fully recovered now! Thoughts are with you.

    Daisy x

  21. Russell says

    Hi Joanna,

    I’m a freelance journalist with type 1. I’m writing a story about students with diabetes and other long-term illnesses. It would be great to ask you a few questions about how you manage being a student with having diabetes. If you’re interested please email me at: russparton at hotmail.com

    I hope you’re feeling better now!

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