Tips for Managing Type 1 and 2 Diabetes at Home

  • Medical Author:

    Robert Ferry Jr., MD, is a U.S. board-certified Pediatric Endocrinologist. After taking his baccalaureate degree from Yale College, receiving his doctoral degree and residency training in pediatrics at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), he completed fellowship training in pediatric endocrinology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Tests for urinary ketones

Ketone testing is an important part of monitoring type 1 diabetes. It is a tool that is often also used in pregnancies that are complicated by diabetes (called gestational diabetes).

Ketones form when one fasts (for example, while sleeping overnight) or when there is a profound lack of insulin. When the body produces insufficient insulin, its cells cannot adequately remove glucose from the blood, and the level of glucose in the blood rises. Responding to what appears to be a lack of glucose, cells release hormones to stimulate the body to produce larger amounts of glucose. Rising blood glucose level causes more urination and dehydration. Due to low insulin action, the liver produces ketones, which are acids released into the blood. The presence of ketones signals a condition in diabetic patients called diabetic ketoacidosis (or DKA). Ketoacidosis always signifies that the cells are not receiving enough insulin.

Severe DKA is a medical emergency, since it can result in loss of consciousness and even death. About 0.1% of those with DKA die as a result of it. There is a correlation between high blood glucose levels, dehydration, and ketones. The higher the glucose level, the more likely that ketones will be made. Therefore, diabetic patients with any blood glucose level over 240 mg/dL should test promptly for urinary ketones. Patients with type 1 diabetes should also test for ketones during any acute illness and during severe stress. Also, urinary ketones should be checked if any symptoms of DKA occur (such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or increased thirst).

Ketones can normally be found in the urine. For example, after an overnight fast, ketones can be seen in up to 30% of people without diabetes. However, these levels of ketone production are usually below the threshold of measurement by the ketone test strips. The strips can give falsely positive results when patients are on drugs such as captopril (Capoten). Falsely negative readings may be seen when test strips are old, exposed to air, or if the urine is very acidic (for example, after drinking a lot of orange juice, which is also high in vitamin C).

These tests are based on the color change that occurs when ketones react with sodium nitroprusside or similar compounds. The tests are performed in a manner similar to that of urinary glucose testing. Different tests detect the three types of ketones (named acetoacetic acid, acetone, and ß-hydroxybutyric acid). For example, Acetest only detects acetoacetic acid and acetone, but not ß-hydroxybutyric acid. Ketostix detects only acetoacetic acid, which can produce false-negative results if only acetone and ß-hydroxybutyric acid are present in the urine. Ketone tests are supplied as strips or tablets.

The American Diabetes Association advises that ketone testing materials be available in the office setting and that physicians should prefer using blood ketone measurements over urine ketone measurements if possible. Home testing for blood ketones is also available, though not often used due to higher cost of the test strips.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/22/2016
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