Twenty-four chronic alcohol abusers hospitalized during a twenty-seven-month period were suspected of having “alcoholic ketoacidosis” because they had ketonuria or ketonemia with little or no glucosuria. Twenty-one had moderate or severe ketosis, with plasma 3-hydroxybutyrate of 5.2 to 22.5 mmol/L. Fifteen of this group were not diabetic, while six were later found to have mild postprandial hyperglycemia without glycosuria. Three patients who had continued to drink until shortly before admission, though at first suspected of having alcoholic ketosis, were found to have predominant lactic acidosis, with minor elevations of plasma 3-hydroxybutyrate.

In contrast to previously reported patients with “alcoholic ketoacidosis,” severe acidemia was uncommon in this series. Indeed, seven patients were alkalemic, because of coexisting respiratory or metabolic alkalosis.

Most patients had eaten poorly for several days (and usually longer) and had allegedly decreased their alcohol intake during that period. That history, and the usual rapid clearing of ketosis simply by treatment with solutions of glucose and NaCl, suggested that acute starvation was an important factor in the pathogenesis of this disorder.

Four patients were treated with insulin and four with NaHCO3 solutions. In retrospect, the need for either of these treatments was not clear. Two of the twenty-four patients died, one from circulatory failure secondary to hemorrhage and the other from pulmonary edema, but no patient died because of ketoacidosis per se.

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