Why Does Diabetic Ketoacidosis Cause Rapid Breathing?

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Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is complication of diabetes caused when the body uses stored body fat instead of glucose (sugar) as a source of fuel. Ketones are the by-products of this breakdown of fat, and they build up in the body. This results in diabetic ketoacidosis. This complication is considered to be major, acute and life-threatening.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is far more prevalent in people with type 1 diabetes than in those with type 2. Because type 1 diabetics are lacking in insulin that converts blood glucose into fuel, the body uses body fat when that process doesn’t work correctly. Ketoacidosis is usually triggered by diabetes that is untreated or not treated properly.

Type 2 diabetics usually experience diabetic ketoacidosis if they are also experiencing some other illness that has triggered it. The risk for this occurring in type 2 diabetics is highest in people of African-American and Hispanic descent.

How Rapid Breathing is Triggered

Why does diabetic ketoacidosis cause rapid breathing? For ketoacidosis to trigger the symptom of rapid breathing, several other things must occur first. In the process of breaking down fat instead of glucose, acidic substances are formed, such as acetoacetate, acetone and beta hydroxyburyrate.

When concentration levels in the blood of these substances increases, it can overwhelm the body, leaving the body unable to effectively rid itself of them. When this happens, a drop in bicabonate1-serum level and pH can begin. This results in the respiratory system trying to compensate, which causes shallow, rapid breathing.

If the substances can be controlled and eliminated before the situation worsens, the rapid breathing can be avoided. The key is to recognize the symptoms early.


One of the symptoms that can occur before rapid breathing takes affect is breath that smells ‘fruity’. This is a sign that the acidic substances are building and action must be taken.

Another thing to look for is a set of symptoms all related to water loss via urine. These symptoms include thirst and dehydration


Learning the answer to “Why does diabetic ketoacidosis cause rapid breathing” is an important factor is learning how to recognize signs of the onset of diabetic ketoacidosis so quick action can be taken.

Failure to act quickly can result in cerebral edema and death. However, quick action in getting treatment has resulted in a very low mortality and morbidity rate in the United States, according to a Medscape article on the topic. The listed rate is as low as 0.67%, which is a significant decrease from the high, of 20 years ago, of 7.96%.


Diabetic Ketoacidosis. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Updated April 19, 2010 by Ari S. Eckman, MD. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000320.htm

Diabetic Ketoacidosis. eMedicine from WebMD. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/118361-overview