What is Kussmaul Breathing?

People with diabetes mellitus, especially type 1 diabetes and rarely in type 2 diabetes, tend to burn fatty acids which brings changes in the breathing patterns. Apart from diabetes, other forms of metabolic acidosis also result in

Kussmaul breathing

. The breathing is usually involuntary, in an effort by the body to get rid of unnecessary acids. Read on to find out more about

Kussmaul breathing


  • In type 1 diabetics, when the body runs out of insulin or is not provided with enough insulin (especially during the times of excessive physical activity), it starts to burn fatty acids to produce energy. Burning fatty acids produces ketones as waste products which are released into the blood stream increasing the acidity of the blood (diabetic ketoacidosis).
  • If the kidneys fail to discharge this excess acids through urine or if there is too many of acid units than the kidneys can process, the only way the body can reduce acidity is through respiration.
  • In the beginning the breathing pattern is usually rapid, short, and shallow, and as the acidosis progresses it becomes slow, deep, and long to exhale the acids. This is similar to hyperventilation with characteristics of air hunger and results in a decrease in partial pressure of carbon dioxide and bicarbonate levels in the blood.
  • The reason behind this abnormal breathing pattern is differentiated by the presence of high blood sugar levels from other forms of ketoacidosis. The presence of high blood sugar levels indicates diabetic ketoacidosis.
  • In less severe cases of metabolic acidosis or diabetic ketoacidosis, the breathing usually comes back to normal when the blood’s composition becomes normal. Severe cases of acidosis along with this type of breathing can lead to coma.

If you find yourself or someone you know suffering from

Kussmaul breathing

, call for medical emergency. This will not happen unless the blood’s acid levels are too high and can lead to coma or can even be fatal.

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