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Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life threatening complication of diabetes mellitus.
When insulin levels in the blood drop, glucose levels rise and the body starts to burn protein for energy. This releases ketones as a by-product and drives up the acidity of the blood. The body can temporarily compensate for this rise, but eventually, it must speed up respiration to lower carbon dioxide levels which rise as a result of the body's attempt to return the blood pH level to normal. In addition, as glucose rises, the body starts producing more urine to remove it, taking sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium out of the body.
When finding an unconscious patient with a history of diabetes, one of the first thing a doctor will check is the patient's breath, which will smell of ketones.
Once diagnosed, patients will immediately recover when given more insulin. Patients will usually also need fluids to treat the associated dehydration.