Acetone in Children: Causes and Treatments

Acetone is a substance the body produces when glucose levels are low. In the following article, we'll describe the causes so you know what to watch for and tell you all about the best treatments.
Acetone in Children: Causes and Treatments

Last update: 20 January, 2020

Acetone is a substance that our bodies produce naturally. For this reason, the presence of acetone in children isn’t considered a disease in itself. It’s a symptom of a nutritional imbalance that may be an indication of other underlying conditions in children and adults.

It tends to appear in children because they have fewer reserves and need more glucose than adults. In the following article, we’ll tell you what causes higher levels of acetone and what symptoms are common so you know what to watch for.

Elevated levels of acetone is common in children. The body produces acetone when there’s an increase in the level of ketones in the body. Ketone bodies appear as a consequence of the metabolic process involved in converting fats, proteins and carbohydrates into substances our bodies can absorb. This is considered physiologically normal and a process that is vital for energy exchange in our bodies.

How to detect acetone in children

Determining the presence of acetone in children is very simple. You only need a blood test or a urine test to determine whether there is an excess of ketone bodies. You can avoid increased acetone levels by following a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

In addition, don’t forget that high levels of ketones can cause symptoms like feeling nauseous with or without vomiting. Unfortunately, this will usually cause the patient to eat and drink less and it can lead to dehydration which further complicates the situation. On occasion, the body will even produce ketones as a source of glucose.

Symptoms of acetone in children

Acetone in children can occur if they eat large amounts of protein or foods that are high in fat. There are also a number of related symptoms and we’ll list some of the most common symptoms below:

  • sudden anxiety
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting, lasting from 1 to 5 days
  • dry skin
  • fever

What are the causes of acetone in children?

The following section will describe some of the potential causes of elevated levels of acetone in children:

1. Extensive and strenuous exercise

Exercising the muscles increases the demand for energy. When the body exhausts its reserves of glucose, the body will look for alternative sources of fats. The use of these alternative fuels leads to the production of ketones as a byproduct. The excess ketones are excreted in the urine.

2. Acetone in children: starvation

This is one of the least common reasons for acetone build up in children. Remember that during periods when we deprive our bodies of food, we have lower levels of insulin.

After several days of starvation, the brain makes a switch and glucose is no longer the main agent of nutrition. Therefore, the body desperately tries to produce enough energy by depending on the reserved fats and muscle tissue, creating ketones as a byproduct.

3. Digestive alterations

When the consumption of carbohydrates and their absorption is adequate, the body inhibits the production of ketones. Nonetheless, when digestive disorders affect the absorption of carbohydrates, the fats and muscle tissues are used as fuel.

4. Nutritional imbalance

A diet that is high in fat or low in carbohydrates affects the availability of carbohydrates for the production of energy in the body. The body ends up burning fat to make sufficient energy, which leads to an accumulation of ketones in the blood.

5. Vomiting and excessive diarrhea

Episodes of vomiting and excessive diarrhea make the body enter into starvation mode. As a consequence, it tries to burn fat to obtain energy. This leads to the excessive production of ketones in the body, that later accumulate in the blood.

What treatment should be followed?

When it comes time to consider different treatment options, you should know the most common method of detecting ketones is with a urine test. In addition, you should also make sure to rule out more serious underlying conditions because acetone in children can be associated with uncontrolled diabetes.

In the case of diabetes, administering additional insulin can help to lower glucose levels in the blood and this can help to control ketone levels as well.

A healthy and balanced diet will help to regulate the levels of glucose in the body and avoid the imbalance that results from eating certain foods or from fasting too long. You should closely control the level of ketones in the blood, especially in diabetic children. This can help prevent the appearance of acetone.

Acetone in Children: Causes and Treatments

In addition, avoiding prolonged exposure to the cold and strenuous exercise will also help prevent acetone levels from rising, especially in those who are at high risk of developing this ailment.

Lifestyle changes are equally important in the control of acetone in children. Avoid a keto-centric diet or a diet that is high in fats and low in carbohydrates. This is a vital step in controlling the production of ketones in the body.

Finally, we remind you that you eliminate ketones by exhaling via the lungs and when you urinate. This disorder is detected with a special strip that can detect the presence of ketones when it absorbs urine. Don’t forget that monitoring is a key part in treating this affliction for the benefit of the child.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Alberti, D. M. J. (2014). “Dieta cetogénica”, Servicio de Nutrición Hospital de Niños de La Plata: 11–19.
    • Armeno, M.; Caraballo, R.; Vaccarezza, M.; Alberti, M. J., y otros. (2014). “Consenso nacional sobre dieta cetogénica”, Revista de Neurología, 59 (5): 213-223.
    • Muñoz, M. T. (2012). “Acetona”, Identidad de Sustancias Químicas1 (23): 37-50.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.