Ketones are chemicals produced when the body breaks down fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. Ketone production happens all of the time, but when ketones are present in the urine, it is usually an indication of an illness or an extreme change in diet. Although the National Institutes of Health says there are no risks for nondiabetics who are in a state of ketosis, the reason a body is in ketosis can indicate a larger problem.
When ketones are present in the urine, the body is in a state of ketosis. It's widely believed that ketosis is bad or dangerous, but that depends on the situation. Normally, the body breaks down carbohydrates for energy, but when the body has run out of that fuel, it will break down fat, producing ketones in the urine.
Treatment for nondiabetics is usually just a change in diet, generally by increasing carbohydrate intake.
Ketones are usually present in the urine when the body is starving. When the body is starved, several hormones, such as glucagon, epinephrine and growth hormone, can cause fatty acids to be released from body fat into the blood. The levels of these hormones increase during a state of starvation, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In this situation, ketosis is dangerous because it's an indication that the body is starving.
Ketosis in diabetic patients (mainly in type 1 diabetes) is called ketoacidosis. This is a dangerous situation because it can lead to a diabetic coma or death. Ketones in a diabetic's urine means there is not enough insulin in the body, which means the diabetes is uncontrolled, according to the American Diabetic Association. It might also be a result of low blood glucose, as a result of an insulin reaction.
Treatment for diabetics usually takes place in a hospital.
When a person drinks excessive amounts of alcohol, ketones can become present in the urine. This is commonly found in alcoholics, but it's also been reported in nonalcoholics of all ages.
Increased Metabolism Disorders
Ketosis may also be triggered by acute or severe illnesses including burns, fever, and hyperthyroidism. Other causes are lactation (nursing an infant), post-surgical condition and pregnancy, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The Atkins Diet bases its progress on a person being a state of ketosis. Atkins dieters test daily for ketones because once they are in ketosis, it means their body is burning fat because all of the carbohydrate fuel is gone.
Negative test results are normal. When someone tests positive for ketones in the urine, the results are generally listed as small, moderate or large amounts with these values, according to the National Institute of Health:
Small: < 20 mg/dL Moderate: 30-40 mg/dL Large: > 80 mg/dL