What is acidosis?
Acidosis is a serious metabolic imbalance in which there is an excess of acidic molecules in the body. This can occur as a result of acid overproduction, impaired acid transport, acid underexcretion, or any combination. With overproduction, the body makes too much acid. This can occur in sepsis, a life-threatening widespread infection in which the body makes too much lactic acid. With underexcretion, the body is unable to rid itself of excess acid. This can occur in renal failure and various lung diseases.
In renal failure, the kidneys are unable to cleanse the blood of acid. In pulmonary diseases, the lungs are unable to exhale sufficient carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a gaseous form of acid that builds up in the bloodstream. Both conditions may coexst in a number of serious diseases, such as pneumonia and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which is seen in a particularly severe form of heart failure.
Doctors diagnose acidosis with blood tests, the most common of which is known as a pH test. The normal pH of the body is 7.4 (a lower pH value is more acidic, higher pH is more alkaline). Acidosis is defined as a pH less than 7.4. Specific blood tests may be used to identify particular acids, such as lactic acid.
The treatment of acidosis depends on its cause. Therapy may range from simple interventions, such as oral medications and intravenous fluids, to invasive measures, such as dialysis and surgery. The outcome of acidosis depends on its severity.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as rapid breathing, confusion, shortness of breath, and lethargy, especially in the setting of lung disease, kidney disease, or other diseases that can cause acidosis.
Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for chronic acidosis but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.
Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced
or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use
of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.
- Respiratory acidosis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000092.htm.
- Metabolic acidosis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000335.htm.
- Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.