Our preliminary data indicate that 15% of African-American patients presenting with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) are obese. To determine underlying mechanisms, we analyzed the clinical characteristics and indexes of insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity in 35 obese patients with DKA, 22 obese patients with hyperglycemia, 10 lean patients with DKA, and 10 obese nondiabetic subjects. Studies were performed 1 day after resolution of DKA and after 12 weeks of follow-up. At presentation, both obese DKA and obese hyperglycemic patients had no detectable insulin response to intravenous glucose, but they did respond to glucagon administration. The acute insulin response (AIR) to glucagon in obese DKA patients (0.9 ± 0.1 ng/ml) was lower than in obese hyperglycemic subjects (1.5 ± 0.1 ng/ml, P < 0.01), but significantly greater than in lean patients with DKA (0.1 ± 0.1 ng/ml, P < 0.01). After 12 weeks of follow-up, the AIR to glucose improved in both groups of obese diabetic patients but remained significantly lower than in nondiabetic control subjects (both/* < 0.01). In contrast, the AIR to glucagon was not significantly different from that in obese control subjects. Insulin sensitivity was decreased in both groups of obese diabetic patients at presentation and improved after follow-up to levels similar to those in obese nondiabetic control subjects. Reactivity with islet cell antibodies was not detected in any of the patients. During follow-up, 25 of 35 obese DKA and 16 of 22 hyperglycemic patients were able to discontinue insulin therapy, with continued good metabolic control. Our results indicate that in African-Americans, obese patients with DKA represent a subset of type II diabetes. Although impaired insulin secretion and insulin action were found at presentation, decreased pancreatic insulin reserve appears to be the primary defect in the development of DKA in obese patients.

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