What Does DKA Stand for in Medical Terminology?

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication of diabetes.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication of diabetes. (Image: little angel image by Ivanna Buldakova from Fotolia.com)

DKA is a medical acronym for diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious complication that can develop when a person with diabetes has too little insulin available for his body’s needs. If DKA isn’t treated, it can be fatal.


When someone with diabetes doesn’t have enough insulin for her body to use glucose as a source of fuel, her body burns fat instead. When fat is used for fuel, byproducts known as ketones accumulate in her body.


Ketone levels in the blood and urine rise, causing a condition of acid-base imbalance known as diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA.

Early Symptoms

During the early stages of DKA, the individual may be very thirsty and urinate frequently. He may have a headache, feel tired, lose his appetite, be fatigued, and experience abdominal pain or shortness of breath.

Warning Signs

As DKA progresses, the person will develop serious warning signs that may include a flushed face, breathing that’s deep and rapid, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, dry skin and mouth, and a fruity odor to his breath. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention for these symptoms.


If DKA is not treated promptly and effectively with insulin and fluids, the person may develop kidney failure, have a heart attack because of low blood pressure, or experience a build-up of fluid within the brain known as cerebral edema that can be fatal.

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