OBJECTIVE: Despite modern concepts in therapy by low-dose insulin application and better care in intensive care units (ICUs), there still is a mortality of 5-10% for severe diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). The aim of this study was to develop a therapy concept to reduce complications and mortality in DKA. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: From 1986 to 1997, 114 consecutive patients (mean [range]; age 34 [11-74] years) with type 1 diabetes suffering from severe DKA were treated on ICUs and investigated in a retrospective and prospective study. The following are the criteria for admission onto ICUs: < 7.20 pH level, > 300 mg/dl blood glucose, less than -12 mmol/l base excess, or < 300 mg/dl blood glucose plus severe symptoms (i.e., coma). We treated patients according to the following concepts: very-low-dose insulin application by a basal insulin infusion of 1 U/h (0.5-4.0 U/h i.v.), maximal decrease of blood glucose level by 50 mg. dl-1. h-1, slow-motion reequilibration by fluid substitution of 1,000 ml/h (Ringer-Lactate, NaCl 0.9% or half-electrolyte fluids) in the first 4 h, potassium replacement and heparin (500-1,000 U/h i.v.). RESULTS: When patients were admitted to ICU, we found the following parameters: mean (range); 609.0 (86.0-1,428.0) mg/dl blood glucose level; 7.13 (6.53-7.36) pH level; and -19.7 (-41.2 to -7.0) mmol/l base excess. After 12 h of treatment, we reached the following parameters: mean values; 251 mg/dl blood glucose level, 7.31 pH level, and -9.37 mmol/l base excess level. All patients survived without any lasting deficiencies or fatal complications. CONCLUSIONS: Very-low-dose insulin application and slow-motion reequilibration plus monitored substitution of electrolytes are the basic strategies in the treatment of severe DKA. In our view, small doses of infused insulin are the main reason for the safe results of this therapy program.

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