Summary: Purpose: This study was undertaken to evaluate the exact limitations of the ketogenic diet (KD) and to collect data on the prevention and management of its risks.
Methods: Patients (129) who were on the KD from July 1995 to October 2001 at our epilepsy center were assessed in the study. Early-onset (within 4 weeks of the commencement of the KD until stabilization) and late-onset complications (occurring after 4 weeks) were reviewed.
Results: The most common early-onset complication was dehydration, especially in patients who started the KD with initial fasting. Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances, such as nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, also were frequently noted, sometimes associated with gastritis and fat intolerance. Other early-onset complications, in order of frequency, were hypertriglyceridemia, transient hyperuricemia, hypercholesterolemia, various infectious diseases, symptomatic hypoglycemia, hypoproteinemia, hypomagnesemia, repetitive hyponatremia, low concentrations of high-density lipoprotein, lipoid pneumonia due to aspiration, hepatitis, acute pancreatitis, and persistent metabolic acidosis. Late-onset complications also included osteopenia, renal stones, cardiomyopathy, secondary hypocarnitinemia, and iron-deficiency anemia. Most early- and late-onset complications were transient and successfully managed by careful follow-up and conservative strategies. However, 22 (17.1%) patients ceased the KD because of various kinds of serious complications, and four (3.1%) patients died during the KD, two of sepsis, one of cardiomyopathy, and one of lipoid pneumonia.
Conclusions: Most complications of the KD are transient and can be managed easily with various conservative treatments. However, life-threatening complications should be monitored closely during follow-up.