October 5, 2022

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The CDC warns that if you notice this, it’s time to call 911.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who relishes the idea of having bad breath. However, it’s not just embarrassment your halitosis may cause—experts say there are some cases in which bad breath can be downright deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if your breath smells a certain way, it could mean you have a serious complication of diabetes—and one that requires immediate medical attention. To make matters worse, the health authority says this symptom, which can easily be mistaken for an oral health problem alone, is sometimes “the first sign of diabetes in people who haven’t yet been diagnosed,” a fact that often translates to delays in diagnosis and care. Read on to find out when the CDC says it’s time to call 911 and which other symptoms may tip you off to the problem.
RELATED: If You Notice This on Your Legs, Get Checked for Diabetes Now, Experts Say.
According to the CDC, having fruity or sweet-smelling breath may be the result of a serious complication of diabetes known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Though the condition is more common among people with type 1 diabetes, it can also affect those with type 2 diabetes. Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, DKA is considered a life-threatening medical emergency. The CDC says that if you notice fruity-smelling breath and believe DKA could be to blame, you should contact your doctor immediately. If for some reason you cannot reach them, go to the emergency room or dial 911, CDC experts urge.
While few people are aware of the connection between their breath and their blood sugar levels, CDC experts explain that your breath can take on an unfamiliar odor when ketone levels rise as a complication of diabetes. When the body doesn’t have enough insulin for cells to turn blood sugar into energy, the liver instead burns fat for fuel, producing acids called ketones as part of the process. This can lead ketones to rise to dangerous levels in your body, causing a change in the smell of your breath, among other symptoms.
RELATED: If You Notice This in the Bathroom, It Could Be the First Sign of Diabetes.
DKA typically develops slowly over time and the symptoms may be subtle at first. Besides sweet or fruity-smelling breath, early symptoms may also include increased thirst and frequent urination.
If left untreated, you may be met with a sudden onslaught of more serious symptoms. The CDC says these may include nausea and vomiting, fast or deep breathing, headache, a flushed face, fatigue, muscle stiffness, or stomach pain.
Certain circumstances can heighten your risk of developing DKA if you have diabetes. Very high blood sugar and low insulin levels are frequently to blame, the CDC says.
There are two common reasons that this set of circumstances can occur: sickness and missed insulin shots. The CDC explains that being sick may influence your appetite, thereby altering how much you eat or drink. This may make it more difficult to manage your blood sugar levels. In other cases, missing insulin shots (either due to forgetfulness, a clogged insulin pump, or dosage errors) can throw your insulin levels out of balance.
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To help prevent a serious medical emergency, the CDC recommends testing your blood for ketones any time you’re sick or suspect you have high blood sugar. “You should also test for ketones [every four to six hours] if you have any of the symptoms of DKA,” their experts suggest.
If you do find that your ketones are moderate or high, you should contact your doctor for immediate care. Call 911 immediately if you cannot reach your doctor and you have any severe symptoms of DKA, including fruity-smelling breath, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or blood sugar levels above 300 mg/dL.
RELATED: If You See This on Your Nails, It Could Be a Tell-Tale Sign of Diabetes.
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