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May 15, 2000

Diagnosis and Symptoms

Question from Livermore, California, USA:

I went to the doctor today for allergies. When we began to talk, the doctor said that he detected an odor when he first came into the room. He said that in children with diabetes they will sometimes have the same kind of odor about them. He also said that people suffering from malnutrition can have the same odor. Because of the odor he smelled upon entering the room, he is having all sorts of blood and urine tests run on me. He called the odor "pitosis" or something like that. Could you please give me some insight into this? I am 42 years old and do not know my family history as I was adopted. I have an HMO and unfortunately the doctor was very quick to get to the next patient. And I was left sitting there with a lot of unanswered questions. If you could give me any information on the "odor" the doctor detected I would appreciate it since I do not know the correct spelling of the condition.

Answer:

It sounds like he is describing “ketosis,” which is a condition where you are using fat and muscle for energy and the “ketones” are the leftover product that gives people a distinctive smell. It is a relative of acetone (fingernail polish remover) and has that same odor. He is right about the fact that people with type 1 diabetes can sometimes have ketosis. If they don’t have enough insulin, they cannot use the glucose from the starches they eat and so their body breaks down fat and muscle to use for energy.

The other common situation where this can happen is when people are on a starvation diet or eating little or no carbohydrates. These diets will cause your body to break down fat and protein and you might end up with “ketosis.”

It is probably not dangerous if you are trying to lose weight but in a person with diabetes it signals a serious situation that needs immediate attention, and more insulin. Hopefully, they will figure out what is causing your ketosis and if it is diabetes, you will find this website helpful in learning to manage it.

VV