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Lactic Acidosis


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

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.

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.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 11, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Lactic acidosis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
  2. Lactic acidosis. AIDSinfo.

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