Ketone bodies are produced by the liver and used peripherally as an energy source when glucose is not readily available. The two main ketone bodies are acetoacetate (AcAc) and 3-beta-hydroxybutyrate (3HB), while acetone is the third, and least abundant, ketone body. Ketones are always present in the blood and their levels increase during fasting and prolonged exercise. They are also found in the blood of neonates and pregnant women. Diabetes is the most common pathological cause of elevated blood ketones. In diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), high levels of ketones are produced in response to low insulin levels and high levels of counterregulatory hormones.
In acute DKA, the ketone body ratio (3HB:AcAc) rises from normal (1:1) to as high as 10:1. In response to insulin therapy, 3HB levels commonly decrease long before AcAc levels. The frequently employed nitroprusside test only detects AcAc in blood and urine. This test is inconvenient, does not assess the best indicator of ketone body levels (3HB), provides only a semiquantitative assessment of ketone levels and is associated with false-positive results. Recently, inexpensive quantitative tests of 3HB levels have become available for use with small blood samples (5-25 microl). These tests offer new options for monitoring and treating diabetes and other states characterized by the abnormal metabolism of ketone bodies.
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