Substance Use

Alcoholic Ketoacidosis: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

various alcoholic beverages in glasses

What You Should Know About Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

Alcoholic ketoacidosis (AKA) is characterized by excess ketones in the blood following a period of heavy drinking without enough food. A person suffering from AKA could experience severe liver, heart, and brain damage due to increased acidity in the blood.

The long-term outlook for recovery following alcoholic ketoacidosis depends on your overall health and average alcohol intake.

Your body’s normal processes lead to countless chemical byproducts. For instance, when your body breaks down fat for energy, there is an increase in ketones in your system.

Ketones are a type of acid typically flushed out of the body, but if you drink a lot of alcohol, it can lead to a buildup of ketones. If your ketone levels get too high, you might start suffering from alcoholic ketoacidosis, also known as alcoholic ketosis.

If you or someone you love is taking risky moves to try and get drunk, Zinnia Healing can help. We offer treatment for alcohol abuse to help individuals overcome addiction and get on the path to living a long, fulfilling life. Ready to learn more? Call our helpline at (855) 430-9439 and get answers to your questions.

What is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

When you drink a lot and don’t eat enough, your body may end up with too many ketones in its bloodstream. This means that your blood will be more acidic than it should be, which can lead to a range of uncomfortable side effects, including:

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Many people don’t realize how quickly ketoacidosis can form. Some believe it is a condition that happens gradually over time if you are a chronic drinker. However, you can develop alcoholic ketoacidosis after just one binge-drinking episode.

If you binge drink to the point where you get sick and vomit, you likely won’t eat for 24 hours or more. On a normal day, your body finds energy in glycogen stores and from the carbohydrates you consume.

When you don’t eat, various processes take place in your body. Aside from trying to process the excess alcohol, your body also starts dipping into fat stores to create energy, and both of these activities can raise your ketone levels.

Not eating or eating very little also leads to lower insulin levels, which can increase counter-regulatory hormones like cortisol and glucagon. These aspects further feed into the condition.

Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is commonly seen alongside alcoholic ketoacidosis, and it requires its own special management and treatment.

It’s important to note that alcoholic ketoacidosis (AKA) is a different condition than diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). You do not have to be diabetic to suffer from alcoholic ketoacidosis. The primary difference is that AKA isn’t synonymous with hyperglycemia (high blood glucose). Someone suffering from AKA may have normal, low (hypoglycemia), or elevated glucose levels.

Because the conditions are similar, medical staff will compile a differential diagnosis list and review your case report to determine which one you’re suffering from.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

Many people end up in urgent care or the emergency room because of the early symptoms of alcoholic ketoacidosis, which include abdominal pain.

Some of the other symptoms of alcoholic ketoacidosis include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Deep, labored breathing
  • Appetite loss
  • Changes in alertness and/or fatigue

Alcoholic ketoacidosis is also commonly accompanied by the symptoms of dehydration, which include feeling thirsty, weak, dizzy, and lightheaded.

If you were to ignore your symptoms, though, you could end up with a life-threatening condition like a heart attack or seizure.

Are you worried about alcohol addiction? Zinnia Healing can help. Our team of addiction specialists can answer your questions on substance abuse and alcohol use. If you’re ready to take the next step, call our helpline at (855) 430-9439 for more information.

How Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis Diagnosed?

When you come into the hospital after drinking, the staff should immediately begin monitoring your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. They may also run fast tests, like checking your blood sugar levels, which can help them deliver emergency medicine as they wait to officially diagnose your condition.

It’s important to be honest about your ingestion of alcohol and any other substances so, they can provide you with the best care for your needs. If you wait for them to detect the prevalence of substances in your systems on tests, it could delay critical treatment.

A number of exams and tests may be administered to diagnose alcoholic ketoacidosis. Doctors may run the following tests:

  • Blood chemistry
  • Liver function
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Arterial blood gases
  • Prothrombin time (PT)
  • Urine ketones
  • Anion gap calculation to measure certain electrolytes

By reviewing some or all of these test results in combination, doctors will be able to determine if you’re in a state of ketoacidosis.

If you aren’t, but you’re experiencing symptoms, they may begin looking into possible conditions like alcohol poisoning.

On the other hand, if you’re experiencing ketoacidosis that isn’t necessarily caused by alcohol consumption, your doctors may check your blood glucose levels and other tests to determine if you are suffering from a condition like starvation ketosis.

Dangers of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

Alcoholic ketoacidosis is a serious condition, and the potential outcome could be deadly, especially if you don’t get proper medical care as soon as possible.

Some of the dangerous outcomes associated with alcoholic ketoacidosis include:

  • Hypovolemic shock, which happens when severe fluid loss (such as blood loss) prevents the heart from pumping efficiently
  • Cardiac arrest, also known as a heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs), which include confusion, sweating, shivering, and shaking

Even if no specific event results from alcoholic ketoacidosis, the increased acidity in the blood can lead to serious and irreversible damage to the liver, kidneys, and brain. The sooner you get medical attention, the sooner your blood acidity level can be controlled, which can help limit these outcomes.

How Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis Treated?

If you are diagnosed with alcoholic ketoacidosis, you’ll typically be asked to stay in the hospital for monitoring and care. Sometimes, people with alcoholic ketoacidosis are admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).

During your stay, your doctor may run multiple blood tests to see how your levels are changing.

One of the most common methods used to treat this condition is IV fluids that consist of a sugar and salt solution.

Depending on how much alcohol you consumed, you may also receive vitamin supplements like potassium to help correct any malnutrition or deficiencies that you’re experiencing.

Especially if you have a history of chronic drinking, you might be given medications to help prevent the uncomfortable side effects of alcohol withdrawal.

The long-term outlook for recovery following alcoholic ketoacidosis depends on your overall health and average alcohol intake. For instance, if you’re also suffering from liver disease, the prognosis won’t be as positive.

Upon discharge, your doctor may connect you with resources to help you recover from alcohol use disorder.

Worried About Alcoholic Ketoacidosis? Get Help Today

Chronic alcohol use may lead to ketoacidosis, but it can also have severe and far-reaching effects on your health and relationships that aren’t reversible. If you’re ready to quit drinking, Zinnia Healing can help.

At our treatment centers, we offer the medical attention you need, combined with the caring, confidential services you deserve. Our team is skilled at helping individuals overcome the negative effects of alcohol abuse and get on the road to lasting recovery.

Zinnia Healing offers hotlines for alcohol abuse to those who are ready to take the next step. Our team is available 24/7 to answer your questions. Just dial (855) 430-9439 to get started.

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