Ketone test strips allow diabetics and individuals on a ketogenic diet to measure the amount of ketones in their urine

What are ketones?

The human body primarily runs on glucose.  When your body is low on glucose, or if you have diabetes and don’t have enough insulin to help your cells absorb the glucose, your body starts breaking down fats for energy.  Ketones are by-products of the breakdown of fatty acids of the liver.  The breakdown of fat for fuel and the creation of ketones is a normal process for everyone.

What happens if your ketone levels get too high?

In a person without diabetes, insulin and other hormones prevent ketone levels in the blood from getting too high.  However, people with diabetes are at risk for ketone build-up in their blood.  High levels of ketones can make your blood acidic.  If left untreated, people with type 1 diabetes are at risk for developing a condition called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA).  While rare, it’s possible for people with type 2 diabetes to experience DKA in certain circumstances as well.  DKA is a serious condition that can lead to diabetic coma or even death.

The most serious effects of DKA include:

  • Swelling in your brain
  • A loss of consciousness
  • A diabetic coma
  • Death

What are the warning signs of Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)?

DKA usually develops slowly.  If vomiting occurs, this life-threatening condition can develop in a few hours.  Early symptoms include the following:

  • Thirst or a very dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • High blood glucose (blood sugar) levels
  • High levels of ketones in the urine

Then, other symptoms appear:

  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Dry or flushed skin
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fruity odour on breath
  • A hard time paying attention, or confusion

How do I check for ketones?

You can detect ketones with a simple urine test.

To perform a urine test, you urinate into a clean container and dip the test strip into the urine.  Urine testing strips contain special chemicals that change colours when they react with ketones.  You can interpret the test results by comparing the test strip to the colour chart on the package.  When you have ketones present in your urine, it’s called ketonuria.

Why do people test for ketones?

Ketones are only produced in the liver.  Ketones in the urine are caused by an abnormal carbohydrate metabolism.  Frequently, ketonuria is a sign of diabetic ketosis.  Ketonuria may also be noted in case of insulin overdoses, starvation (e.g., slimming diet, low carb diet), dangerous metabolic abnormalities during pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum), acetonemic vomiting of infants and fever caused especially by infections.