Capillary blood tests may overestimate ketosis: triangulation between three different measures of β-hydroxybutyrate

Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2020 Feb 1;318(2):E184-E188. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00454.2019. Epub 2019 Dec 10.


The ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), assessed by a point-of-care meter in venous whole blood (BHBv), was used as the main outcome in a study on nutritional ketosis in healthy older adults. Two other BHB measures were also used in the study for validation and exploratory purposes, and here we report findings on correlation and agreement between those three methods. Ketosis in the range of 0-1.5 mmol/L was induced in 15 healthy volunteers by intake of medium-chain fatty acids after a 12-h fast. BHBv was assessed at 12 time points for 4 h. The same point-of-care meter was also used to test capillary blood (BHBc) at three time points, and a laboratory test determined total ketones (TK) in plasma (BHBp + acetoacetate) at four time points. A total of 180 cases included simultaneous data on BHBv, BHBc, BHBp, and TK. TK correlated with BHBp (Pearson's r = 0.99), BHBv (r = 0.91), and BHBc (r = 0.91), all P < 0.0001. BHBv and BHBp had good agreement in absolute values. However, the slope between BHBc and BHBv, measured with the same device, was in the range of 0.64-0.78 in different regression models, indicating substantially higher BHB concentrations in capillary versus venous blood. We conclude that all three methods are valid to detect relative changes in ketosis, but our results highlight the importance of method considerations and the possible need to adjust cutoffs, e.g., in the management of ketoacidosis and in the evaluation and comparison of dietary interventions.

Keywords: capillary; ketosis; methods comparison; venous; β-hydroxybutyrate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / blood*
  • Adult
  • Capillaries
  • Diet, Ketogenic
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Hematologic Tests*
  • Humans
  • Ketones / blood
  • Ketosis / blood*
  • Ketosis / diagnosis*
  • Male
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Fatty Acids
  • Ketones
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid