Diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is an acute, life threatening complication that usually occurs in new onset and established type 1 diabetic patients due to a state of severe insulin deficiency. This condition is characterized by hyperglycemia, ketoacidosis and ketonuria.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is usually associated with type 1 diabetes mellitus, but is not uncommon in some patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Approximately 30% of children and adolescents with new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes presents with diabetic ketoacidosis at their first presentation 1-3.

Polydipsia and polyuria are the most common early symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis, other signs and symptoms include 4:

  • nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, anorexia, rapid weight loss
  • dehydration (e.g. manifesting as postural hypotension, tachycardia, xerostomia)
  • Kussmaul respiration (deep and labored breathing)
  • ketosis breath, often described as 'fruity'
  • drowsiness, lethargy, confused, stupor, seizures

Diabetic ketoacidosis usually occurs in type 1 diabetic patients and is commonly precipitated by inadequate or discontinuation of insulin therapy, or infection (often urinary tract infection or pneumonia). Other precipitating factors include, alcoholic intoxication, glucocorticoids, ischemia or infarction, or an intra-abdominal process (e.g. pancreatitis or cholecystitis). These lead to insulin deficiency due to increased counter-regulatory hormones. This triggers unrestricted hepatic glucose production causing hyperglycemia, and can also trigger lipolysis and subsequent ketogenesis. Both hyperglycemia and hyperketonaemia cause osmotic diuresis, dehydration and diabetic ketoacidosis 4.

The role of imaging is to detect possible causes and complications.

Chest radiography helps rule out pulmonary infection, such as pneumonia.

Cerebral edema occurs in about 0.5-1% of pediatric diabetic ketoacidosis. It is also the most common neuroimaging finding associated with pediatric diabetic ketoacidosis 5-7. Neuroimaging (CT or MRI) may demonstrate effacement of the sulci and basilar cisternal spaces, compression and decreased size of the cerebral ventricles, and reduction of grey and white matter differentiation 8.

Other possible neuroimaging findings include focal infarction, ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, extrapontine myelinolysis, and sinovenous thrombosis 9.

DKA is a medical emergency and institutions will often have set protocols regarding urgent management. However, the principles of treatment should be the same 10:

  • correction of volume depletion with the administration of intravenous fluids
  • correction of hyperglycemia with a short-acting insulin infusion
  • potassium replacement and correction of other electrolytes
  • search for underlying cause

The overall mortality rate for diabetic ketoacidosis is 2.5-5% in developed countries.

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Article information

rID: 60370
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
  • DKA

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