Why is my patient with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and hypovolemia hypertensive?

Although we may expect patients with DKA to present with hypotension due to hypovolemia, many patients with DKA may actually be hypertensive. This finding is particularly intriguing because hyperinsulinemia, not insulinopenia as found in DKA, has been associated with hypertension. 1,2

Though not proven, potential explanations for hypertension in DKA include elevated serum levels of catecholamines, pro-inflammatory cytokines, renin, angiotension II and aldosterone.3-5 Hyperosmolality may also lead to the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) which increases blood pressure via V2 receptors.  Another possibility is that the high insulin levels associated with the treatment of DKA suppress the catecholamine-stimulated production of vasodilative eicosanoids (eg, prostaglandins) by adipose tissue. 1 It’s possible that in any given patient, 1 or more of these mechanisms may be enough to override the potential hypotensive effect of insulin deficiency in DKA.

We should note that reports of frequent hypertension in DKA have primarily involved pediatric patients. A 2011 study found that 82% of pediatric patients with DKA had hypertension during the first 6 hours of admission with no patient having hypotension.3  

On the other extreme, refractory hypotension without obvious cause (eg, sepsis, acute adrenal insufficiency, cardiogenic causes) has also been reported in DKA.5Because insulin inhibits the production of vasodilative prostaglandins (eg, PGI2 and PGE2), severe insulin deficiency in DKA can also contribute to hypotension along with volume depletion. 

Potential genetic polymorphism in the synthesis and metabolism of prostaglandins may at least partially explain the varied blood pressure response and whether a patient with DKA presents with hypertension or hypotension. 5  

The author would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of Lloyd Axelrod MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, to this post.

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  1. Axelrod L. Insulin, prostaglandins, and the pathogenesis of hypertension. Diabetes 1991;40:1223-1227. https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/40/10/1223 
  2. Chatzipantelli K, Head C, Megerman J, et al. The relationship between plasma insulin level, prostaglandin productin by adipose tissue and blood pressure in normal rats and rats with diabetes mellitus and diabetic ketoacidosis. Metabolism 1996;45:691-98. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002604959690133X 
  3. Deeter KH, Roberts JS, Bradford H, et al. Hypertension despite dehydration during severe pediatric diabetic ketoacidosis. Pediatr Diabetes 2011;12:295-301. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1399-5448.2010.00695.x 
  4. Ferris JB, O’Hare JA, Kelleher CM, et al. Diabetic control and the renin-angiotensin system, catecholamines and blood pressure. Hypertension 1985 7(Suppl II):II-58-II-63. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/01.HYP.7.6_Pt_2.II58  
  5. Singh D, Cantu M, Marx MHM, et al. Diabetic ketoacidosis and fluid refractory hypotension. Clin Pediatrics 2016;55:182-84. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0009922815584549?journalCode=cpja 


Why is my patient with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and hypovolemia hypertensive?

My patient with diabetes mellitus is now admitted with pneumonia. Does diabetes increase the risk of pneumonia requiring hospitalization?

The weight of the evidence to date suggests that diabetes mellitus (DM) does increase the risk of pneumonia-related hospitalization.1-3

A large population-based study involving over 30,000 patients found an adjusted relative risk (RR) of hospitalization with pneumonia of 1.26 (95% C.I 1.2-1.3) among patients with DM compared to non-diabetics.  Of note, the risk of pneumonia-related hospitalization was significantly higher in type 1 as well as type 2 DM and among patients whose A1C level was ≥9.1  Another population-based study found a high prevalence of DM (25.6%) in patients hospitalized with CAP, more than double that in the population studied.2  A 2016 meta-analysis of observational studies also found increased incidence of respiratory tract infections among patients with diabetes (OR 1.35, 95% C.I. 1.3-1.4).

Not only does DM increase the risk of pneumonia-related hospitalization, but it also appears to adversely affect its outcome with increased in-hospital mortality.2 Among patients with type 2 DM,  excess mortality has also been reported at 30 days, 90 days and 1 year following hospitalization for pneumonia. 4,5 More specifically, compared to controls with CAP, 1 year mortality of patients with DM was 30% (vs 17%) in 1 study. 4

Potential reasons for the higher incidence of pneumonia among patients with DM include increased risk of aspiration (eg, in the setting of gastroparesis, decreased cough reflex), impaired immunity (eg, chemotaxis, intracellular killing), pulmonary microangiopathy and coexisting morbidity. 1,3,5,6

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that worldwide DM has reached epidemic levels, such that if DM were a nation, it would surpass the U.S. as the 3rd most populous country! 7

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  1. Kornum JB, Thomsen RW, RUS A, et al. Diabetes, glycemic control, and risk of hospitalization with pneumonia. A population-based case-control study. Diabetes Care 2008;31:1541-45. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17595354
  2. Martins M, Boavida JM, Raposo JF, et al. Diabetes hinders community-acquired pneumonia outcomes in hospitalized patients. BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2016;4:e000181.doi:10.1136/bmjdrc-2015000181. https://drc.bmj.com/content/4/1/e000181
  3. Abu-Ahour W, Twells L, Valcour J, et al. The association between diabetes mellitus and incident infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2017;5:e000336. https://drc.bmj.com/content/5/1/e000336. 
  4. Falcone M, Tiseo G, Russo A, et al. Hospitalization for pneumonia is associated with decreased 1-year survival in patients with type 2 diabetes. Results from a prospective cohort study. Medicine 2016;95:e2531. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26844461
  5. Kornum JB, Thomsen RW, Rus A, et al. Type 2 diabetes and pneumonia outcomes. A population-based cohort study. Diabetes Care 2007;30:2251-57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17595354
  6. Koziel H, Koziel MJ. Pulmonary complications of diabetes mellitus. Pneumonia. Infect Dis Clin North Am 1995;9:65-96. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7769221
  7. Zimmet PZ. Diabetes and its drivers: the largest epidemic in human history? Clinical Diabetes and Endocrinology 2017;3:1 https://clindiabetesendo.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40842-016-0039-3  


My patient with diabetes mellitus is now admitted with pneumonia. Does diabetes increase the risk of pneumonia requiring hospitalization?