Diabetic hyperosmolar coma is a syndrome of marked hyperglycemia and minimal ketoacidosis. In general, the serum glucose concentrations are not predictive of the serum ketoacid concentrations in acutely decompensated diabetes. The endocrine factors that modulate glucose concentrations may be different from those that modulate ketoacid concentrations in patients with acutely decompensated diabetes. To test this hypothesis, regression analysis was used to determine the endocrine and metabolic characteristics that correlated with serum concentrations of glucose and ketoacids in 26 diabetic patients with spontaneous, acute hyperglycemia. All patients had a serum glucose level greater than 390 mg/dl, and ketoacid levels were from 0.17 to 25.5 mM. Multiple regression analysis showed that increased serum glucose concentrations correlated with increased plasma glucagon levels (p = 0.0007, r2 = 0.45), but with no other factors. Increased total ketoacid levels (acetoacetate plus 3-hydroxybutyrate) correlated with increased free fatty acid levels (p = 0.0001), decreased C-peptide levels (p = 0.002), and increased body mass index (p = 0.002) (r2 = 0.72). Body mass index only correlated with ketoacid levels, when it was analyzed with C-peptide and free fatty acid levels. A model is proposed that predicts the serum glucose and ketoacid concentrations in patients with acutely decompensated diabetes. Glucagon modulates the serum glucose concentration in these patients with an absolute or relative insulin deficiency. Total serum ketoacid levels are determined by the serum free fatty acid concentration, residual pancreatic insulin secretion (as reflected by C-peptide), and the patient's body habitus. This model allows for the marked hyperglycemia and minimal ketosis of diabetic nonketotic hyperosmolar coma, as well as the glucose and ketoacid concentrations in other presentations of acutely decompensated diabetes.