Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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Metabolic encephalopathy secondary to diabetic ketoacidosis: a case report

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-11-28, 17:16 authored by Maria TomkinsMaria Tomkins, Richard McCormack, Karen O'Connell, Amar AghaAmar Agha, Aine MerwickAine Merwick

Introduction: Metabolic encephalopathy is a rare but potentially devastating complication of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This case highlights the dramatic cognitive decline of a young man due to metabolic encephalopathy complicating DKA. The aims of this case report are to highlight metabolic encephalopathy as a complication of DKA and to explore the current research in diabetic related brain injury. The importance of investigation and treatment of reversible causes of encephalopathy is also demonstrated.

Case presentation: A 35-year-old man with a background of type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) and relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) presented to the emergency department (ED) in a confused and agitated state. Prior to admission he worked as a caretaker in a school, smoked ten cigarettes per day, took excess alcohol and smoked cannabis twice per week. Following initial investigations, he was found to be in DKA. Despite timely and appropriate management his neurological symptoms and behavioural disturbance persisted. Neuroimaging revealed temporal lobe abnormalities consistent with an encephalopathic process. The patient underwent extensive investigation looking for evidence of autoimmune, infective, metabolic, toxic and paraneoplastic encephalopathy, with no obvious cause demonstrated. Due to persistent radiological abnormalities a temporal lobe biopsy was performed which showed marked astrocytic gliosis without evidence of vasculitis, inflammation, infarction or neoplasia. A diagnosis of metabolic encephalopathy secondary to DKA was reached. The patient's cognitive function remained impaired up to 18 months post presentation and he ultimately required residential care.

Conclusions: Metabolic encephalopathy has been associated with acute insults such as DKA, but importantly, the risk of cerebral injury is also related to chronic hyperglycaemia. Mechanisms of cerebral injury in diabetes mellitus continue to be investigated. DKA poses a serious and significant neurological risk to patients with diabetes mellitus. To our knowledge this is the second case report describing this acute complication.



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Published Citation

Tomkins M, McCormack R, O'Connell K, Agha A, Merwick Á. Metabolic encephalopathy secondary to diabetic ketoacidosis: a case report. BMC Endocr Disord. 2019;19(1):71.

Publication Date

2 July 2019

PubMed ID



  • Beaumont Hospital
  • Medicine


BioMed Central


  • Published Version (Version of Record)