Learn About Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

What is the definition of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Alcoholic ketoacidosis is the buildup of ketones in the blood due to alcohol use. 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.

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What are the alternative names for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Ketoacidosis - alcoholic; Alcohol use - alcoholic ketoacidosis

What are the causes of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

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.

What are the symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Symptoms of alcoholic ketoacidosis include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Agitation, confusion
  • Changed level of alertness, which may lead to coma
  • Fatigue, slow movements
  • Deep, labored, rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Symptoms of dehydration, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, and thirst
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What are the current treatments for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

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 malnutrition caused by excess alcohol use.

People with this condition are usually admitted to the hospital, often to the intensive care unit (ICU). Alcohol use is stopped to help recovery. Medicines may be given to prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

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.

What are the possible complications of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

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

  • Coma and seizures
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Pneumonia
When should I contact a medical professional for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

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

How do I prevent Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

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

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Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: April 24, 2021
Published By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Finnell JT. Alcohol-related disease. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 142.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol use disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 30.