What is Metabolic Acidosis?

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  • Written By: Eric Stolze
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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Metabolic acidosis is a medical condition that exists when a person’s body fluids contain excessive amounts of acid. This condition can develop when the body produces more acid than normal or when the kidneys do not remove enough acid from the body. Several types of metabolic acidosis exist, including diabetic ketoacidosis, lactic acidosis and respiratory acidosis.

Some people with diabetes may develop diabetic ketoacidosis. Individuals with this form of metabolic acidosis accumulate abnormally high levels of ketones in their body. Ketones are acidic substances that are byproducts of the breakdown of fat in the body, and high levels of these acids can be poisonous.

People with ketoacidosis may notice that they have rapid and deep breathing, a flushed face or a fruity breath odor. Stomach pain, vomiting and nausea can occur with this acidic disorder. Doctors typically test ketone levels in a patient’s urine to identify abnormally high levels of these acids. Most patients with diabetic ketoacidosis do not have enough insulin in their bodies, and they usually receive insulin replacement medication to treat this condition.

Lactic acidosis is a form of metabolic acidosis that results from an accumulation of high amounts of lactic acid in the body. This condition has several potential causes, including liver failure, low blood sugar levels and excessive amounts of physical exercise. A lack of oxygen from heart failure, shock or anemia may also cause lactic acidosis to develop.


Fast breathing, lethargy and confusion have been reported by some people with lactic acidosis. Physicians may use blood tests that measure electrolytes or blood gas analysis tests to identify this medical condition. Doctors generally treat lactic acidosis by treating the underlying cause of the disease. Patients may receive sodium bicarbonate to help the body normalize its acidity levels.

Respiratory acidosis is a type of metabolic acidosis that can develop when a patient’s lungs are unable to get rid of carbon dioxide the body produces. The blood often becomes too acidic with this disorder. This condition has a number of possible causes, including lung diseases, diseases that affect the muscles the body uses to breathe and drugs that can suppress a patient’s breathing. In some cases, obesity may restrict the ability of the lungs to fully exhale and remove carbon dioxide from the body.

Individuals with respiratory acidosis have experienced shortness of breath, sleepiness and fatigue in some instances. Respiratory failure and shock have occurred with severe cases of this disease. Physicians may treat this condition with bronchodilator drugs that expand the airways of the lungs, or they may recommend oxygen treatment or ventilation to assist breathing. Respiratory acidosis patients who smoke usually receive treatment to help them quit smoking in order to improve their lung functioning.


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