Why does my sweat smell sweet?

Woman holding her head because she's in pain
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If you’ve noticed that your sweat, or breath for that matter, smells sweet, it may be something to take to the doctor. You may think that sweet smelling sweat and breath should be a good thing right? I mean who wants sweat that smells off-putting? It might sound pleasant but it could be a sign of uncontrolled Type 1 Diabetes.

Sweet scented sweat and Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is when ketones build up in the blood in high levels as a result of diabetes – usually Type 1 Diabetes.

In people with diabetes, the bodie’s cells don’t take in and use sugar (glucose) as a source of energy in the way that they should. This may be because the body doesn’t produce insulin, or the cells don’t react to insulin in the way they should. So in order for the cells to burn energy in the absence of glucose, they burn fat, which in turn produces ketones. This can lead to diabetes ketoacidosis if left untreated.

DKA can cause other irregularities in the body such as mess up the electrolyte composition. So the levels of sodium, potassium and bcarbonate in the body may not be balanced and optimum.

Symptoms of DKA include:

  • breath that smells sweet or fruity
  • feeling very thirsty
  • needing to pee more than usual
  • being sick
  • belly pain
  • deep or fast breathing
  • feeling very tired or sleepy
  • confusion
  • passing out

Factors that can increase the chance of developing DKA

If you have diabetes, these things can increase your chance of developing DKA:

  • having an infection, such as flu or a urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • not taking insulin as prescribed
  • an injury or surgery
  • binge drinking
  • being on your period
  • taking certain medicines, such as steroids
  • using illegal drugs
  • pregnancy

Sometimes, there’s no obvious trigger.

Tests and Diagnosis

If you think that what you have is DKA, you should see your doctor immediately. They may test your blood sugar levels, ketone levels and perform other tests for ketoacidosis.

Treatment of Ketoacidosis

Your doctor may prescribe insulin if you’re not already on it. If you are taking insulin, your dosage may be adjusted.

If the DKA progresses far enough, you may be hospitalised and placed on fluid and electrolyte replacement therapy and insulin therapy. If diabetes is not the cause of your ketoacidosis, further tests will be done to find out the cause which may be an infection, reaction to medication or another disease.

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