Understanding Ketosis vs Ketoacidosis

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Understanding Ketosis vs Ketoacidosis

Some people believe that ketosis and ketoacidosis are the same condition, but these are two different conditions related to the body’s metabolism. Learning the differences between ketosis vs ketoacidosis will help to dispel myths surrounding their cause and diagnosis.

What is Ketosis

Ketosis is a state in which the body starts burning fat for energy due to lack of new glucose in the diet. Althugh ketosis is commonly seen in individuals participating in a low-carb diet, it is also seen in people suffering from a lack of insulin as well as prolonged periods of fasting or starvation.

Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose. The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin that works with the glucose in the bloodstream to provide energy to the body’s organs and cells. When the glucose supply is exhausted, it begins to break down stored fat to meet its energy needs for normal functioning. The accumulation of ketone molecules in the blood make it extremely acidic. This irritates the kidneys, which flush out ketones through urine.

Ketosis gets its name from the ketones that are produced in the process of breaking down the fat. In a healthy person, the amount of fat that is burned and ketones that are produced is tightly controlled, causing no harmful side effects. Dietary ketosis seen in those participating in low-carbohydrate diets can be quite helpful in losing weight, as fat is burned in the entire process to gain energy. As ketosis is usually a diet-induced process, it isn’t harmful, unlike ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition.

What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a condition afflicting mainly type 1 diabetes patients who suffer from hyperglycemia as a result of lack of insulin. Inadequate insulin levels result in the failure of the body to utilize blood glucose as a fuel source; rather, to compensate the decreased energy levels, the body starts breaking down fat, resulting in ketones. Without insulin to control the amount of ketones produced during this process, an excessive amount is produced. The high concentration of ketones coupled with heightened blood glucose levels causes the blood to become significantly acidic.

As a result of high blood sugar levels and inadequate insulin, acidic ketones create chemical imbalance in the body and produce life-threatening symptoms and can even cause death.

Diabetic ketoacidosis in children might be the result of undiagnosed diabetic mellitus. Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis in children are:

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Excessive thirst

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Confusion

  • Restlessness

  • Flushed skin

  • Fruity-scented breath, primarily because of ketones

In the case of adults, common diabetic ketoacidosis symptoms are:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Illness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dehydration
  • Shortness of breath

Though type 1 diabetes patients are more vulnerable to developing diabetic ketoacidosis, in some cases, type 2 diabetes patients, too, can develop this condition due to prolonged illness.

Ketosis vs Ketoacidosis: Key Differences

Now that we have understood both Ketosis and Ketoacidosis, it is clear how both terms differ.

  • Ketosis, in most cases, is a diet-induced condition that results in the body breaking down fat and fatty acid to create energy because of inadequate glucose supply in the diet, normally from a low-carbohydrate diet, a prolonged fast or starvation. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a condition when the body cannot use blood glucose to produce energy due to lack of insulin and thus uses its muscle mass, fat, and fatty acid.
  • In ketosis, ketones do not cause harm to the body because insulin keeps a check on their production. In diabetic ketoacidosis, the blood becomes extremely acidic because of high sugar levels, inadequate insulin and an excess of ketones, resulting in chemical imbalance in the body.

Ketoacidosis Prevention

Remain strict with your diabetes management by taking daily doses of insulin, following a heart-healthy diet and adding physical activity to your daily routine. This would keep diabetic ketoacidosis at bay to a great extent.


1. eMedicineHealth: Ketosis and Ketoacidosis

2. MedicinePlus: Ketoacidosis

3. Atkins Diet & Low Carbohydrate Weight-Loss Support: Ketosis

4. UCSF: Ketoacidosis