What is lactic acidosis?

Lactic acidosis is a type of acidosis that occurs when the blood becomes too acidic due to the presence of excess lactic acid in the body. Blood pH is tightly controlled because even slight changes in your pH can have severe effects on many organs. Normally, your blood is slightly basic, or alkaline. Acidosis occurs when the blood becomes more acidic than normal.

Blood Problems Spotlight

Lactic acid is created when structures in the cells called mitochondria respond to high-energy demands in cases of relatively low oxygen levels. Lactic acid commonly increases with exercises designed to increase speed, strength, and muscle mass, such as sprinting and lifting weights, but is typically cleared quickly during rest periods, mostly by the liver. Conditions that decrease blood oxygen levels, interfere with the mitochondria, or decrease the clearance of lactic acid can allow lactic acid to increase to harmful levels. As lactic acid builds up, symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate or irregular heart rhythm, and mental status changes can occur.

Medical conditions that can cause lactic acidosis include severe infections, kidney or liver disease, respiratory disease, heart disease, seizures, shock, cancer, severe anemia, and diabetes. Although rare, lactic acidosis can occasionally occur with metformin, a diabetes medication, and nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), medications used to treat HIV and AIDS.

In order to correct lactic acidosis, the underlying problem needs to be addressed. Additional treatment of lactic acidosis may include intravenous fluids, supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation, and vitamins.

Lactic acidosis can be a serious condition leading to life-threatening complications such as shock. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as profuse sweating, bluish coloration of the lips and nails, chest pain, cold and clammy skin, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, weakness, decreased or absent urine output, sweating, unusual anxiety, confusion, or unconsciousness.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for lactic acidosis but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.


What are the symptoms of lactic acidosis?

Symptoms of lactic acidosis may include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate or irregular heart rhythm, and mental status changes.

Common symptoms of lactic acidosis

If you experience lactic acidosis, it may be accompanied by symptoms that include:
Read more about lactic acidosissymptoms


What causes lactic acidosis?

Lactic acid forms when the mitochondria, small structures inside of cells that act somewhat like batteries, need to utilize oxygen-free methods to produce energy. This occurs when energy demands are high and oxygen is not supplied as quickly as would be necessary to meet them. Exercises that involve quick bursts of activity, such as sprinting and power lifting, commonly result in mitochondrial ... Read more about lactic acidosiscauses


How is lactic acidosis treated?

The main treatment for lactic acidosis is to correct the underlying problem that led to it. If lactic acid production can be slowed down, it is more likely that its clearance will be able to keep up with its production. Although substances can be given to decrease the acidity of your blood, the use of these can lead to a paradoxical increase in lactic acid production.

Common t... Read more about lactic acidosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation