Alcoholic ketoacidosis is the buildup of ketones in the blood. Ketones are a type of acid that form when the body breaks down fat for energy.
Causes of Alcoholic ketoacidosis
Alcoholic ketoacidosis is caused by excessive alcohol use. It is most often seen in a malnourished person who drinks large amounts of alcohol every day.
Alcoholic ketoacidosis Symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Changed level of alertness, which may lead to coma
- Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
- Irregular deep, rapid breathing (Kussmaul's sign)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Symptoms of dehydration, such as dizziness, light-headedness, and thirst
Tests and Exams
- Arterial blood gases (measure the acid/base balance and oxygen level in blood)
- Blood alcohol level
- Blood chemistries, and liver function tests, such as CHEM-20
- CBC (complete blood count, measures red and whilte blood cells, and platelets, which help blood to clot)
- Prothrombin time (PT, a different measure of blood clotting, often abnormal from liver disease)
- Toxicology (poison) screening
- Urine ketones
Treatment of Alcoholic ketoacidosis
Treatment may involve fluids (salt and sugar solution) given through a vein. You may need to have your blood taken often. You may get vitamin supplements to treat nutritional deficiencies caused by excess alcohol use.
People with this condition are admitted to the hospital, often to the intensive care unit (ICU). Additional medications may be given to prevent alcohol withdrawal.
Prompt medical attention improves the overall outlook. How severe the alcoholism is, and the presence of liver disease or other complications also affect the outlook.
This can be a life-threatening disorder. Complications can include:
When to Contact a Health Professional
If you or someone else has symptoms of alcoholic ketoacidosis, seek emergency medical help.
Prevention of Alcoholic ketoacidosis
Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink may help prevent this condition.
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DuBose TD Jr. Acidosis and alkalosis. In: Fauci A , Kasper D, Longo DL, et al, eds. Harrison's Principals of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2008:chap 48.
Wiener SW, Hoffman RS. Alcoholic ketoacidosis. In: Wolfson AB, Hendey GW, Ling LJ, et al, eds. Harwood-Nuss' Clinical Practice of Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009:chap 25.
|Review Date: 4/5/2013
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.