Glucose or sugar is the preferred source of fuel for the body. If the body’s cells get insufficient glucose, fat is used as the alternative source of energy. When fat is used as a source of energy, it produces ketones, which are acidic chemicals. A buildup of ketones causes the blood to become too acidic. This leads to chemical derangements called ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis comes in two different forms - diabetic ketoacidosis and alcoholic ketoacidosis. Here is more information about alcoholic ketoacidosis.

What Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Alcoholic Ketoacidosis (AKA) is a condition that develops in people who drink too much alcohol. This condition results in the increase of Ketones. AKA is common in adults who have a history with alcoholism. Any person showing signs of AKA needs to seek immediate medical attention because it is a potentially fatal condition.

If you consume alcoholic beverages excessively without eating a balanced diet, the acidic levels of your blood might rise, causing health complications. Drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation or drinking as you eat can help reduce the likelihood of getting AKA. When the body’s fat cells breakdown after they have been consumed, ketones are formed. Consequently, the amount of acid in the blood dramatically increases and the blood’s pH (potenz Hydrogen) balance drops.

While people who drink lots of alcoholic drinks and do not eat sufficient nutrients, or a balanced diet are likely to develop AKA, they are not the only ones. Inexperienced drinkers who binge drink can also develop this condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

AKA symptoms vary based on the amount of alcohol you consume. Symptoms also depend on the amount of ketones you have in the bloodstream. If any of the following symptoms develop, you need to seek immediate medical attention. AKA is a life-threatening condition.

Regular symptoms include:

  • Symptoms linked to dehydration like thirst, lightheadedness, and vertigo (dizziness)

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Lack of appetite

  • Rapid and irregular, deep breathing

  • Sluggish movement

  • Fatigue

  • Coma or decrease in alertness

  • A change in the person’s mental status

  • Abdominal pain

When to See a Doctor

When you develop AKA symptoms, you need to seek emergency medical attention as soon as possible. If a medical professional does not treat the condition, it can end up being fatal, and the patient could end up in the hospital’s ICU. Doctors may intravenously administer sugar and salts as they attempt to counteract the effects brought about by AKA. The hospital also monitors the blood composition of the patient, more specifically the ketone levels. They do so to see whether there are any signs of improvement.

What Are the Causes of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

AKA develops when a person drinks alcoholic beverages in excessive amounts and for a long period. Most people who develop AKA are also malnourished.

Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to malnourishment. The reason is that most people who drink alcoholic beverages in large quantities may also not eat on a regular basis. They may also vomit after excessive consumption of alcohol. Insufficient nutrition or/and vomiting can cause starvation thus reducing production of insulin in the body. Therefore, to get energy, the body starts breaking down the fats causing ketoacidosis.

How Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis Diagnosed?

Alcoholic ketoacidosis can be diagnosed by a medical professional. If you experience symptoms linked to AKA, a physical exam will be performed by your doctor. The doctor will ask you about your alcohol consumption and health history. The doctor may also order further tests, which will confirm the diagnosis.

The tests can include:

  • Glucose levels

  • Urine ketones

  • Serum lactate: Used to determine the lactate levels in your blood. If the levels are high, they may indicate the presence of lactic acidosis. Lactic Acidosis means that the tissues and cells in the body are not getting sufficient oxygen. 

  • Lipase and Amylase: These enable the doctor to monitor your pancreas function.

  • Creatinine and BUN: These help determine whether your kidneys are functioning as they should.

  • Electrolytes: This helps the doctor to determine whether your electrolytes are balanced or not. When the electrolytes are balanced, your organs and cells can function properly.

  • Toxicology screening: A urine or blood test is done to check the amount of drugs in your system.

  • CHEM-20 (blood chemistries): This test gives the doctor a complete look at the functioning of your metabolism.

  • Blood alcohol level: This measures the alcohol level in the blood.

  • Arterial blood gasses: This test helps to check the acid/base balance and oxygen levels in the blood. 

If you have an elevated blood glucose level, an HgA1C (hemoglobin A1C) test may be performed by your doctor. This test will give information about the blood sugar levels, which will help the doctor determine whether you are diabetic or not. Additional treatment may be required if you are found to have diabetes.

What Are the Treatments for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

AKA treatment is normally administered in the ER (emergency room). The doctor will monitor vital signs like breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Through your arm, the doctor will intravenously give you fluids. Malnutrition may also be treated by giving you nutrients and vitamins. Should you need ongoing care, you may be admitted into the ICU.

Living with Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

If you have been diagnosed with AKA, recovery depends on various factors. Prevent the development of severe complications by seeking immediate help when you notice the symptoms of AKA. Complications can include coma, psychosis or encephalopathy (brain disease that causes muscle twitching, personality changes and memory loss).

If you are an alcoholic, seek medical help so that a relapse is avoided. AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) is an organization that helps alcoholics. 

Complication of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

The absence or presence of liver disease and alcohol use impacts your prognosis. If you use alcohol for long you may end up with cirrhosis (scarring of liver). This is a permanent condition that affects your health. It can cause nausea, leg swelling and exhaustion.

There may be further health problems that may occur as an AKA complication. They include:

  • Pneumonia

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding

Prevention for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

Alcoholic Ketoacidosis can be prevented by reducing the amount of alcohol you consume. If you are an alcohol addict, seek help that will assist you to avoid or reduce your consumption of alcohol. For example, join an AA group.


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