Alcoholic Ketoacidosis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis

What is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Ketoacidosis is a medical condition in which the food that is ingested by an individual is either metabolized or converted into acid. Alcoholic Ketoacidosis is a condition in which there is development of Ketoacidosis as a result of excessive alcohol intake for a long period of time and less ingestion of food resulting in malnutrition.

Drinking excessive alcohol causes the individual to be able to eat less food. Additionally, if excess alcohol is ingested then it may lead to vomiting which further worsens the nutritional status of the individual which results in formation of excess acids resulting in Alcoholic Ketoacidosis. The symptoms caused by Alcoholic Ketoacidosis include abdominal pain, excessive fatigue, persistent vomiting, and the individual getting dehydrated due to frequent vomiting episodes and less fluid intake.

If an individual has a history of alcohol abuse and experiences the above mentioned symptoms then it is advised that the individual goes to the nearest emergency room to get evaluated and if diagnosed treated for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis.

Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

What Causes Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

As stated above, the root cause of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis is drinking excessive amounts of alcohol for a prolonged period of time. When an individual indulges in binge drinking he or she is not able to take in enough food that is required by the body to function. This eventually results in malnourishment.

Additionally, vomiting caused by excessive drinking also results in loss of vital nutrients and electrolytes from the body such that the body is not able to function normally. This results in the insulin that is being produced by the body becoming less and less.

All of these ultimately results in the development of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis. An individual may develop symptoms within a day after binge drinking, depending on the overall health and nutritional status.

What are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

The symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis are variable and depend on the amount of alcohol consumed and the length of time that the individual has been indulging in excessive alcohol use. The symptoms will also depend on the levels of ketones that are in the bloodstream of the individual.

Some of the symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis are:

  • Pain in the abdominal area
  • Impaired mental awareness
  • Agitation
  • Lethargy
  • Impaired movement
  • Irregular and deep breathing
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea with vomiting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dizziness.

Development of any of these symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis require an emergent evaluation and treatment to prevent any life threatening complications.

How is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis Diagnosed?

Once the patient presents to the emergency room with the above symptoms and the physician suspects Alcoholic Ketoacidosis as a cause of the condition then he or she will conduct a battery of tests to confirm the diagnosis. To begin with, a detailed history of the patient will be taken as to the period of time that he has been drinking alcohol, the amount he or she drinks, and the amount of food that the patient is able to eat after drinking. This will give a brief idea to the physician about the nutritional status of the individual. Post history taking, the physician may order further tests to include:

  • Testing amylase and lipase levels to check the functioning of the pancreas and to rule out condition like pancreatitis.
  • ABG to check for levels of oxygen in the blood
  • A blood alcohol test to check the level of alcohol in the blood
  • A chemistry panel to check the metabolism status of the body
  • BUN and creatinine levels to check the functioning of the kidneys
  • Urinalysis to look for the levels of ketones which in cases of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis will be obviously high

All the above tests will confirm the diagnosis of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis.

How is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis Treated?

The treatment for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis begins as soon as the patient presents to the emergency room with the symptoms described above. IV fluids will be administered. The patient will be given vitamins and other nutrients to increase the nutritional status. Some of the nutrients that may be given in the emergency room for treatment of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis are thiamine, potassium, and magnesium.

The patient will then be shifted to the Intensive Care Unit where further treatment will be administered. The Alcoholic Ketoacidosis patient may have to stay in the hospital until the time that the nutritional status of the patient comes back to normal and the excess ketones present in the blood has been cleared. Once all the parameters have been normalized the patient may be sent to a alcohol de-addiction center to help the patient get rid of alcohol use as a relapse may result in recurrence of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis.

What is the Prognosis of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

The prognosis of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis depends on various factors. If the patient is treated as soon as the symptoms develop then the prognosis is quite good. The prognosis however becomes guarded if the patient is suffering from other comorbid condition that can be caused by excessive alcohol use like liver cirrhosis or other complications that may complicate things and require further more aggressive treatment for conditions other than Alcoholic Ketoacidosis.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 22, 2017

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