Ketones: What are they?

If you are familiar with Type 1 diabetes then you are familiar with ketones. If at least for the only reason that periodically you have needed to pee on a stick to see if you have them. But what are they really.

Ketones are the by-product of using protein as a main source of fuel for your body. Glucose is the main source of fuel for your body, it comes from foods such as sugar, carbohydrates, or fructose. In uncontrolled diabetes insulin cannot get glucose into your cells for fuel. This is from a lack of insulin or resistance toward insulin at the cellular level. When this happens your body starts to break down protein to use for fuel. During this process the body then creates an acid as a byproduct of breaking down protein. In small amounts occasionally you may not notice this. When uncontrolled diabetes and blood sugars are running high for long periods of time then the acid starts to build up in the blood causing ketones in your urine. This can eventually lead to coma and death without treatment and a myriad of other symptoms.


If you have ever had high ketones you know how awful you can feel. You get a headache, nausea, vomiting, and not really with it mentally. Treatment for ketones is insulin and fluids. Insulin controls blood sugars and the fluids to flush the ketones from your body If you have a hard time  keeping fluids down because of vomiting then you should see medical treatment. The act of vomiting alone can create more ketones as well as exercise. Treating ketones at home for a diabetic is difficult. Type 1 diabetes requires vigilance and drink plenty of fluids. and check you blood sugar and ketones at least every two hours. Until blood sugars and ketones are back to normal.  If you have not received a guide from your endocrinologist about a sick day guide then you should get one. It will spell out exactly how to treat your blood sugars and ketones when you are ill or your sugars are running to high. Type 1 diabetes can cause many issues and understanding what the underlying cause is to problems with diabetes, like ketones, will help you treat it better at home.

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

I often had the question: How did you know your son had diabetes? I didn’t. Even as a healthcare provider Type 1 diabetes was not the first thing in my mind. Mostly because I am a mom before I am a nurse practitioner. Quincy did have most of the symptoms when I look back right before diagnosis. And because I am a practitioner I knew something was wrong and I had him into the clinic quickly. He was never in diabetic ketoacidosis upon diagnosis. So As a parent how do you know.

First If you think something is wrong with your child, take your child into your doctor. Nothing you can read here or anywhere else will substitute what a good provider can do when seeing your child and running some lab work.

Secondly the main symptoms of type 1 diabetes (or diabetes in general) is extreme thirst, extreme fatigue (more than you would see with a  growth spurt), extreme hunger but also weight loss, a fruity breath smell or loss of consciousness. The later are later symptoms and are indicative of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is when the body is breaking down large amounts of protein to make fuel and in turn makes the blood more acidic. This can render a person unconscious and without health care death.

If your child has any of the milder symptoms thirst or hunger that cannot be satisfied, fatigue or weight loss then take your child to the doctor. the symptoms could be diabetes or a number of other diagnoses.