Serum Ketones Test

Written by Brian Krans | Published on June 1, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Jason Baker, MD on June 17, 2014

Serum Ketone Test

A serum ketone test is an important test to determine the levels of a byproduct when your body burns fat.

Ketones are produced when glucose (a form of sugar) isn’t available to supply the body’s cells with energy. This becomes a problem if your body doesn’t have enough insulin to properly digest or use the glucose. When glucose isn’t available, your body uses stored body fat as a source of energy. This releases the ketones that can accumulate in the blood.

If ketones build up in the body, it can lead to ketosis. Ketosis can cause dehydration, dizziness, nausea, and weakness. After that, it can lead to ketoacidosis, a condition that can lead to diabetic coma or even death.

The test is done so your doctor can have an accurate depiction of the levels of ketones in your blood. It is an important test when determining the effects of diabetes, chronic alcoholism, or long-term starvation.

Ketone levels are important for monitoring conditions such as diabetes. The body’s inability to produce adequate amounts of insulin prevents the body from processing sugars properly. The test is especially important for people with diabetes who become sick or pregnant.

According to the Mayo Clinic, ketone buildup has also been linked to low-carbohydrate fad diets, such as the South Beach Diet and the Atkin’s diet (Mayo, 2011).

Serum Ketone Test Procedure

Do not eat anything for at least four hours before your appointment. Your doctor will inform you if there are any other ways you should prepare for the test.

A serum ketone test is done in a laboratory setting using a sample of the patient’s blood.

The sample is taken at your doctor’s office or a specialized facility. An intravenous needle is placed in the patient’s arm. Several small vials of blood will be taken from the same entry point. The samples are then sent to a laboratory. This could be at the hospital or the samples may be sent away to another facility.

Once the blood draw is done, the patient’s involvement in the test is over. A bandage will be placed over the injection site and can be taken off within an hour of the sample. It may feel tender or sore afterwards, but this typically goes away by the end of the day.

Some blood glucose monitors also test for ketone levels. This provides a reading every time you check your blood sugar levels, which can be helpful for planning exercise or monitoring your ketones on your own.

Ketones can also be tested through a sample of the urine. Testing equipment is available for home use.

Results of Serum Ketone Test

Normal results show there are no ketones in the blood.

The presence of ketones in the blood can indicate:

  • diabetic ketoacidosis
  • starvation
  • uncontrolled serum glucose levels
  • alcoholic ketoacidosis

When your test results are available, your doctor will review them with you. This may be over the phone or at a follow-up appointment.

Risks and Complications of Serum Ketone Test

The only complications of the test come from taking a blood sample. A good vein to take the blood sample from may be difficult to find and there may be a slight prick sensation or bruising at the site of the needle insertion. These symptoms are temporary and will go following the test or after a few days.

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