A high proportion of children with type 1 diabetes who are hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) develop acute kidney injury (AKI), according to results from a study.

Researchers reviewing records from a Canadian hospital found that in a cohort of 165 children hospitalized for DKA during a 5-year period (2008-2013), 64% developed the complication. Severe forms of AKI (stage 2 or 3) were common, representing 45% and 20%, respectively, of children with AKI. Two patients in the cohort required dialysis.

In their research published online March 13 in JAMA Pediatrics, Brenden E. Hursh, MD , and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Children’s Hospital, both in Vancouver, noted that AKI rates among hospitalized children had not been systematically studied before.

“We hypothesized that, because DKA is associated with both volume depletion and conservative fluid administration upon presentation, these children are potentially at high risk for AKI, above the level of risk expected by the rare reported cases in the literature,” Dr. Hursh and his colleagues wrote ( JAMA Pediatr. 2017 Mar 13. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.0020 ).

The investigators found that lower serum bicarbonate levels and elevated heart rates were indeed associated with increased risk of severe AKI. Serum bicarbonate level of less than 10 mEq/L was associated with a fivefold increase in the odds of severe (stage 2 or 3) AKI (adjusted odds ratio, 5.22; 95% confidence interval, 1.35-20.22). Each increase of 5 bpm in initial heart rate was associated with a 22% increase in the odds of severe AKI (aOR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.07-1.39).

Dr. Hursh and his colleagues defined AKI using serum creatinine values. As baseline values prior to hospital admission were not available, the researchers used estimated normal value ranges from published studies, choosing a glomerular filtration rate of 120 mL/min per 1.73 m2 as a standard baseline value. Urine output was not used as a measure because of inconsistent records.

Of particular concern was that more than 40% of patients with AKI “did not have documented resolution of AKI prior to discharge or arrangements for follow-up in the nephrology clinic. Of note, the final AKI stage was severe for 50% of these children,” the researchers wrote in their analysis.

The findings suggest that clinicians “should consider AKI as a frequent complication that accompanies pediatric DKA and should be especially alert to its presence in severe presentations of DKA,” they said. AKI is underrecognized “both because of a lack of awareness of AKI as a complication of DKA and because the serum creatinine level in pediatric patients must be interpreted in the context of the child’s age and height. It is crucial to develop or have in place systems that identify and monitor abnormal markers of renal function in this population.”

The researchers acknowledged as limitations of their study its retrospective design, the absence of baseline serum creatinine values, and the lack of urine output data for use in AKI severity grading. And prospective longitudinal studies, they wrote, “are needed to assess the effect of these AKI episodes on the trajectory of renal disease in children with diabetes.”

The researchers reported no outside funding or relevant financial disclosures.