Any Benefit to Sodium Bicarbonate in DKA?

In a prior post, we discussed the use of an initial insulin bolus in the management of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).  Today we will address another facet of DKA management, for which there is less than optimal evidence and that is: Any benefit to sodium bicarbonate in DKA?  Consensus guidelines for the management of DKA recommended administering sodium bicarbonate to DKA patients who present with an initial blood gas pH of < 7.0. That recommendation was updated and changed in 2009 to limit sodium bicarbonate use to DKA patients with blood gas pH of < 6.9.  More recently, Chua et al. published a systematic review of 44 articles discussing bicarbonate administration and Duhon et al. published the largest retrospective review of DKA patient with presenting pH of < 7.0.

What are the most recent studies evaluating: Any benefit to sodium bicarbonate in DKA?

The most interesting and revealing observation in reviewing this data is that there is significant heterogeneity when discussing bicarbonate therapy in DKA

If you are going to initiate bicarbonate, what clinical endpoint are you treating to, how much bicarbonate are you going to order, how are you going to administer it, and if you are seeking resolution of academia, what is your threshold cut off for resolution? Finally, do any of these endpoints have any clinical significance in patient outcomes?  In the end no, bicarbonate administration makes numbers look transiently better, but does not change any clinically relevant outcomes based on the best evidence to date. Unfortunately, even with all of the DKA that presents to emergency departments, we do not have more robust, prospective, randomized and placebo controlled trials to help us address this clinically un-answered question that dates back to the beginnings of Emergency Medicine as a specialty, but at this time best evidence does not support the role of bicarbonate in treatment of DKA.

Take Home Points

  • Neither a recent systematic review, nor largest single retrospective cohort of severe DKA support routine use of bicarbonate therapy in DKA
  • Bicarbonate is associated with risk of cerebral edema and prolonged hospitalization in pediatric DKA


  1. Chua HR et al. Bicarbonate in Diabetic Ketoacidosis – A Systematic Review. Ann Intensive Care 2011. PMID: 21906367
  2. Duhon B et al. Intravenous Sodium Bicarbonate Therapy in Severly acidotic Diabetic KEtoacidosis. Ann Pharmacother 2013. PMID: 23737516

Other posts on…Any Benefit to Sodium Bicarbonate in DKA?:

Cite this article as: Darrel Hughes, "Any Benefit to Sodium Bicarbonate in DKA?", REBEL EM blog, May 12, 2014. Available at:
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Darrel Hughes

University Health System Clinical Specialist, Emergency Medicine at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA)
REBEL EM Guest Contributor and Author

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10 thoughts on “Any Benefit to Sodium Bicarbonate in DKA?”

  1. Algorithms often have <7.0 or <6.9 as a possible indication for bicarbonate therapy but what I have noticed is often absent is a trigger for respiratory rate/distress. If acidosis is causing a severe increase in respiratory demand, even at pH of 7.1, would alkaline infusion be potentially helpful? Looks like the answer is still no based on the lack of data to support a decreased time to resolution of acidemia but I wonder if any of these studies looked at intubation rates/respiratory symptoms.

    • Hey Alex,
      Great to have you on the blog. Yes the ADA which is older guidelines does recommend bicarb at < 7.0 or <6.9, but these studies were published after the fact and best evidence IMHO. Unfortunately the studies did not evaluate intubation rate as best I can tell. Salim

  2. Been told bicarb amp if ph was that low and about to intubate to help maintain. What would be the approach you recommend?

    • Hello Daniel,
      Physiologically this makes sense. If you HAVE TO intubate a DKA patient then yes an amp of bicarb may help stabilize CV status. I would try my best not to intubate if at all possible, bc it is almost near impossible to keep the patient in resp alkalosis to blow off all the CO2 from their acidosis. There are no studies on this that I am aware of. Another great post that mentions use of bicarb late in DKA, and hints at your questions is here as well:

      Hope this helps.


  3. great review…..
    never made sense to use
    unscientific view but i would still use to get a transient increase when their BP is in their boots i.e so acidic that the heart just cannot pump – again no evidence — just seems sensible

    • Hey there Jim,
      Now we are talking…You are talking about the crashing DKA patient and basically throwing the kitchen sink at them. And I agree it is not based on evidence, but I too would consider using bicarb in the situation you are discussing. I don’t however use it in the patient who has a low pH and “holding their own.” In this case we are treating a number to make ourselves feel better, but really there is no benefit to the patient. Appreciate you reading and great point about the crashing patient


  4. Hi Jim,

    I think it is worth noting that neither the systemic review or the retrospective series was able to assess “BP in the boots” or “ketoacidotic coma”. The authors were unable to show benefit in the undifferentiated DKA patient with pH < 7.0. However, Viktor Rosival just published a nice review article in Journal of Diabetes and Metabolism that highlights the link between VERY low blood pH and decreasing activity of the glycolytic enzyme phosphofructokinase. He makes a strong case for correcting VERY low blood pH with an alkalizing agent for treatment of coma in DKA.


    Rosival et al., J Diabetes Metab 2014, 5:11


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