What is Lactic Acidosis?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Lactic acidosis is a serious health condition that occurs from lactic acid buildup in the blood. This condition is dangerous because acid accumulates in the blood faster than it is being removed. Lactic acid is made from red blood cells and cells in muscles. The acid is formed when oxygen levels significantly drop in the body. A person with this condition should get immediate medical attention.

Most commonly, lactic acidosis occurs due to intense exercise. Generally, the more a person exercises, the more oxygen is required to keep the process going. Sometimes, the body is unable to meet the request for oxygen. When this happens, glucose can no longer be adequately broken down and used for energy. This can cause hypoxia or a deprivation of oxygen in bodily tissues, which can form lactic acid, and high accumulations of it cause lactic acidosis.

There can be some additional causes of lactic acidosis. Sometimes, the condition is caused by an existing medical condition. Frequently contributing conditions include lung, liver, heart and kidney diseases. Lung disease may further affect oxygen intake. In addition, a malfunction in the kidneys can affect their ability to eliminate the acid from the body.


Other pre-existing conditions which may lead to this condition include cancer, respiratory failure, hypoglycemia and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Blood diseases such as leukemia and anemia can also cause this to happen. In addition, individuals who are dehydrated, have alcohol poisoning and taking certain medications, in particular some diabetic medicines, have been known to develop lactic acidosis.

The symptoms of lactic acidosis can include nausea, weakness, abdominal pain and sweating. The condition can also cause disorganized breathing. Many people experience very rapid breathing, which may lead to shortness of breath. Confusion, low blood pressure and clammy skin may be experienced as well. The most serious side effects are shock, unconsciousness and death.

Generally, doctors order various blood tests to accurately diagnose lactic acidosis. A urinalysis may also be performed to check the acidity level of urine. The cause of this condition will need to be determined for adequate treatment. Multiple tests may be done to uncover an underlying medical cause. The results of the tests can help the physician treat the ailment causing the increase in acidity levels.

Treatment for this condition is generally directly related to its cause. For instance, if a kidney disorder is the underlying cause, certain medications may be prescribed to help the kidneys function better. In this situation, dialysis may also be given. Sometimes, sodium bicarbonate is given to neutralize the acidity in the blood. If a doctor has a reason to believe that multiple factors are contributing to the condition, more than one treatment method may be prescribed.


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