Many guidelines and treatment algorithms for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) recommend sodium chloride 0.9% as the replacement fluid of choice, though alternative fluids may be a better option [1-4]. Randomized trials, in adult and pediatric patients, demonstrate faster resolution of DKA when using balanced solutions (e.g.PlasmaLyte-A, lactated Ringer’s) compared to sodium chloride [5-7]. Dr. Josh Farkas provides further review of this topic in 3 excellent and detailed EMCrit posts [8-10].


A phase-2 study published in 2021, SCOPE-DKA, randomized 93 patients with severe DKA (median venous pH 7.0) to receive PlasmaLyte-148 (PlasmaLyte-A) or sodium chloride 0.9% [11]. During the first 48 hours of treatment, patients received a average of ~6.5 L of fluid. At 24-hours, more patients in the PlasmaLyte group had resolution of DKA (defined as base excess ≥ -3 mEq/L) as compared to the sodium chloride group (69% vs 36%, p=0.002). However, by 48-hours, both groups had similar rates of DKA resolution (96% vs 86%, p=0.111). The study authors concluded that PlasmaLyte-148 may lead to faster resolution of metabolic acidosis in patients with DKA without an increase in ketosis, in line with findings from previous studies, but these results need to be confirmed in a larger, Phase 3 trial.

To further explore the nuances, strengths, and weaknesses of this study, please read the REBEL EM review by Dr. Mark Ramzy [13].

Bottom Line

  • The available data suggests that balanced fluids are beneficial in mild, moderate, and severe DKA.
  • PlasmaLyte-148 (PlasemaLyte A) may lead to faster resolution of metabolic acidosis than sodium chloride 0.9%. Though these findings need confirmation in a large, Phase 3 trial.
  • Generally, the composition of the initial liter is less important than prompt administration. However, for subsequent liters, a balance crystalloid (e.g., PlasmaLyte-148, or lactated Ringer’s) should be used instead of sodium chloride 0.9%.

Want to learn more about EM Pharmacology?

Read other articles in the EM Pharm Pearls Series and find previous pearls on the PharmERToxguy site.


  1. Wolfsdorf J, Glaser N, Sperling MA, American Diabetes Association. Diabetic ketoacidosis in infants, children, and adolescents: A consensus statement from the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(5):1150-1159. PMID: 16644656. doi: 10.2337/diacare.2951150.
  2. Kitabchi AE, Umpierrez GE, Miles JM, Fisher JN. Hyperglycemic crises in adult patients with diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(7):1335-1343. PMID: 19564476. doi: 10.2337/dc09-9032.
  3. Canadian Diabetes Association Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee, Goguen J, Gilbert J. Hyperglycemic emergencies in adults. Can J Diabetes. 2013;37 Suppl 1:S72-76. PMID: 24070967. doi: 10.1016/j.jcjd.2013.01.023.
  4. Joint British Diabetes Societies Inpatient Care Group. The Management of Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Adults. 2021; online publication. Accessed January 3, 2022.
  5. Mahler SA, Conrad SA, Wang H, Arnold TC. Resuscitation with balanced electrolyte solution prevents hyperchloremic metabolic acidosis in patients with diabetic ketoacidosis. Am J Emerg Med. 2011;29(6):670-674. PMID: 20825879. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2010.02.004.
  6. Williams V, Jayashree M, Nallasamy K, Dayal D, Rawat A. 0.9% saline versus Plasma-Lyte as initial fluid in children with diabetic ketoacidosis (SPinK trial): a double-blind randomized controlled trial. Crit Care. 2020;24(1):1. PMID: 31898531. doi: 10.1186/s13054-019-2683-3.
  7. Self WH, Evans CS, Jenkins CA, et al. Clinical effects of balanced crystalloids vs saline in adults with diabetic ketoacidosis: a subgroup analysis of cluster randomized clinical trials. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(11):e2024596. PMID: 33196806. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.24596.
  8. Farkas J. Four DKA Pearls. 2014. Accessed January 3, 2022.
  9. Farkas J. Dominating the acidosis in DKA. 2016. Accessed January 3, 2022.
  10. Farkas J. IBCC – Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022.
  11. Ramanan M, Attokaran A, Murray L, et al. Sodium chloride or Plasmalyte-148 evaluation in severe diabetic ketoacidosis (Scope-dka): a cluster, crossover, randomized, controlled trial. Intensive Care Med. 2021;47(11):1248-1257. PMID: 34609547. doi: 10.1007/s00134-021-06480-5.
  12. Ramzy M. SCOPE-DKA: Normal Saline vs Plasmalyte in Severe DKA. 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022.
Bryan D. Hayes, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, FASHP

Bryan D. Hayes, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, FASHP

Leadership Team, ALiEM
Creator and Lead Editor, Capsules and EM Pharm Pearls Series
Attending Pharmacist, EM and Toxicology, MGH
Associate Professor of EM, Division of Medical Toxicology, Harvard Medical School
Bryan D. Hayes, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, FASHP


EM Pharmacist & Toxicologist @MassGeneralEM | Asst Prof @HarvardMed/@EMRES_MGHBWH | @ALiEMteam leadership | Capsules creator, ALiEMU | President, ABAT | #FOAMed
Mike O'Brien, PharmD

Mike O'Brien, PharmD

ALiEM Series Editor, EM Pharm Pearls
EM Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
Massachusetts General Hospital