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Alcoholic ketoacidosis

Definition

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.

The condition is an acute form of metabolic acidosis, a condition in which there is too much acid in body fluids.

Alternative Names

Ketoacidosis - alcoholic; Alcohol use - alcoholic ketoacidosis

Causes

Alcoholic ketoacidosis is caused by very heavy alcohol use. It most often occurs in a malnourished person who drinks large amounts of alcohol every day.

Symptoms

Symptoms of alcoholic ketoacidosis include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Agitation, confusion
  • Changed level of alertness, which may lead to coma
  • Fatigue, slow sluggish movements
  • Deep, labored, rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Symptoms of dehydration, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, and thirst

Exams and Tests

Tests may include:

  • Arterial blood gases (measures the acid/base balance and oxygen level in blood)
  • Blood alcohol level
  • Blood chemistries and liver function tests
  • CBC (complete blood count), measures red and white 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

Treatment may involve fluids (salt and sugar solution) given through a vein. You may need to have frequent blood tests. You may get vitamin supplements to treat nutritional deficiencies caused by excess alcohol use.

People with this condition are usually admitted to the hospital, often to the intensive care unit (ICU). Additional medicines may be given to prevent alcohol withdrawal.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Prompt medical attention improves the overall outlook. How severe the alcohol use is, and the presence of liver disease or other problems, may also affect the outlook.

Possible Complications

This can be a life-threatening condition. Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you or someone else has symptoms of alcoholic ketoacidosis, seek emergency medical help.

Prevention

Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink may help prevent this condition.

References

Finnell JT. Alcohol-related disease. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 185.

Seifter JL. Acid-base disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 118.


Review Date: 5/21/2017
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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