What Is Lactic Acidosis?

In simple terms it’s a build up of lactic acid in your body. This happens when your overproduce or underutilizes lactic acid.

If lactic acid builds up in the body more quickly than it can be removed, acidity levels in bodily fluids — such as blood — spike.

Why does lactic acidosis occur?

Lactic acid buildup occurs when there’s not enough oxygen in the muscles to break down glucose and glycogen. This is called anaerobic metabolism.

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There are two types of lactic acid: L-lactate and D-lactate. Most forms of lactic acidosis are caused by too much L-lactate.

Are there symptoms of lactic acidosis?

Yes there is and they are similar to a lot of other illnesses. They include:

  • exhaustion or extreme fatigue
  • muscle cramps or pain
  • body weakness
  • overall feelings of physical discomfort
  • abdominal pain or discomfort
  • diarrhea
  • decrease in appetite
  • headache
  • rapid heart rate

In severe cases symptoms include:

  • fruity-smelling breath (a possible indication of a serious complication of diabetes, called ketoacidosis)
  • confusion
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes)
  • trouble breathing or shallow, rapid breathing

If you know or suspect that you have lactic acidosis and have any of these symptoms, call the emergency services in your country or go to an emergency room right away.

What causes lactic acidosis?

Lactic acidosis has a wide range of underlying causes, including; heart disease, HIV, short bowel syndrome, chronic alcoholism and intense exercise.

How is it diagnosed?

Lactic acidosis is diagnosed through a fasting blood test, after you’ve fasted for 8 to 10 hours.

Your doctor may also instruct you to curb your activity level in the hours leading up to the test.

During the test, your doctor may tell you not to clench your fist, as this may artificially spike acid levels. Tying an elastic band around the arm may also have this result. 

For these reasons, the lactic acidosis blood test is sometimes done by finding a vein on the back of the hand instead of the arm.

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Treatment options for lactic acidosis

Treatment for lactic acidosis depends on the core issue.

In an emergency, regardless of cause, increasing oxygen to the tissues and giving IV fluids are often used to reduce lactic acid levels.

If your lactic acidosis is caused by exercise the best treatment is to stop what you’re doing and rehydrated. If symptoms persist then it is worth going to see a doctor.

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