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Acetone is a type of ketone, which is a substance released when the body uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The presence of acetone in urine can be caused by a variety of situations, including starvation or fasting, high-protein or low-carbohydrate eating plans, type 1 diabetes, and other conditions associated with an abnormally high metabolism. Some of the acetone, as well as other ketones, leave the body through the urine.
Starving or fasting can cause ketosis, which is a condition marked by the use of fat for energy. The body should instead use a type of sugar called glucose, which it obtains from carbohydrates, for the energy it needs. If the body is not receiving enough glucose from food to keep up with the body’s metabolism, it targets fat, causes ketosis, and produces ketones like acetone and acetoacetic acid.
Certain diets also have the ability to cause the presence of acetone in urine. Low-carbohydrate diets, for example, involve significantly decreasing the amount of glucose a person consumes. These diets are typically taken on by people who want to lose fat quickly, and though they sometimes work, they can contribute to the development of ketosis.
Type 1 diabetes that isn't successfully treated may also contribute to the presence of acetone and other ketones. This type of diabetes causes ketosis because the body does not create enough of a hormone called insulin naturally, but the body requires insulin to use glucose for energy. When it cannot successfully process glucose, the body moves on to burning stored fat instead and producing acetone in the process.
There are several other conditions that may contribute to the presence of ketones in a person's urine. Among them are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and sometimes even fever. Each of these conditions can temporarily raise a person’s metabolism. When this happens, a person either eats more to compensate for the body burning glucose at a faster rate, or goes into ketosis, with the accompanying presence of acetone in urine.
When ketosis develops, it doesn't usually become dangerous right away, but it does cause the blood to become too acidic. In advanced and prolonged cases, it can become serious, damaging internal organs and even proving fatal. Likewise, the presence of ketones in the body of a pregnant woman can harm her unborn child. A doctor may decide to check for acetone in urine, as well as other ketones, if a person's blood sugar levels are abnormal, if he feels sick to his stomach frequently, or if he is more thirsty than normal. Dry mouth symptoms, breath that smells sweet, abnormal fatigue, and mental confusion can be signs of ketosis as well.