Multiple risk factors for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) have been described, including omission of insulin therapy and clinical conditions known to increase counterregulatory hormones. Recently, substance abuse has been identified in patients with DKA. We observed many cases of DKA in cocaine users, although the association between cocaine use and DKA has not been well described in the medical literature.
We performed a retrospective case-control study of admissions for DKA in cocaine users and nonuser controls in an urban teaching hospital from January 1, 1985, to December 31, 1994.
We identified 720 adult admissions for DKA. Twenty-seven cocaine users accounted for 102 admissions (14% of all DKA admissions). The users were compared with 85 nonuser controls who had 154 DKA admissions. Cocaine users had more admissions for DKA (mean, 3.78 vs 1.81; P=.03). Cocaine users were less likely than controls to have an intercurrent illness identified as a precipitating factor for DKA (14.7% vs 33.1%; P<.001) and were more likely to have missed taking insulin prior to admission (45.1% vs 24.7%; P<.001). Although cocaine users had higher serum glucose levels on admission (32.9 mmol/L [593.4 mg/dL] vs 29.5 mmol/L [531.1 mg/dL]; P=.03), no differences in intensity of illness or treatment outcome were detected.
In this preliminary study, cocaine use was found in a significant number of adults admitted with DKA and was associated with more frequent omission of insulin therapy and the absence of precipitating systemic illness. Either because of its association with insulin therapy omission or its effects on counterregulatory hormones, cocaine use should be considered a risk factor for DKA, particularly in patients with multiple admissions.