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When your body fluids contain too much acid, it’s known as acidosis. Acidosis occurs when your kidneys and lungs can’t keep your body’s pH in balance. Many of the body’s processes produce acid. Your lungs and kidneys can usually compensate for slight pH imbalances, but problems with these organs can lead to excess acid accumulating in your body.
The acidity of your blood is measured by determining its pH. A lower pH means that your blood is more acidic, while a higher pH means that your blood is more basic. The pH of your blood should be around 7.4. According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC), acidosis is characterized by a pH of 7.35 or lower. Alkalosis is characterized by a pH level of 7.45 or higher. While seemingly slight, these numerical differences can be serious. Acidosis can lead to numerous health issues, and it can even be life-threatening.
There are two types of acidosis, each with various causes. The type of acidosis is categorized as either respiratory acidosis or metabolic acidosis, depending on the primary cause of your acidosis.
Respiratory acidosis occurs when too much CO2 builds up in the body. Normally, the lungs remove CO2 while you breathe. However, sometimes your body can’t get rid of enough CO2. This may happen due to:
Metabolic acidosis starts in the kidneys instead of the lungs. It occurs when they can’t eliminate enough acid or when they get rid of too much base. There are three major forms of metabolic acidosis:
Factors that can contribute to your risk of acidosis include:
Both respiratory and metabolic acidosis share many symptoms. However, the symptoms of acidosis vary based on its cause.
Some of the common symptoms of respiratory acidosis include the following:
Some of the common symptoms of metabolic acidosis include the following:
If you think you may have acidosis, go to the doctor immediately. Early diagnosis can make a big difference in your recovery.
Doctors diagnose acidosis with a series of blood tests. An arterial blood gas looks at the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. It also reveals your blood pH. A basic metabolic panel checks your kidney functioning and your pH balance. It also measures your calcium, protein, blood sugar, and electrolyte levels. If these tests are taken together, they can identify different types of acidosis.
If metabolic acidosis is suspected, you’ll need to give a urine sample. Doctors will check the pH to see if you are properly eliminating acids and bases. Additional tests may be needed to determine the cause of your acidosis.
Doctors usually need to know what is causing your acidosis to determine how to treat it. However, some treatments can be used for any type of acidosis. For example, your doctor may give you sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to raise the pH of your blood. This can be done either by mouth or in an intravenous (IV) drip. The treatment for other types of acidosis can involve treating their cause.
Treatments for this condition are usually designed to help your lungs. For example, you may be given drugs to dilate your airway. You might also be given oxygen or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. The CPAP device can help you breathe if you have an obstructed airway or muscle weakness.
The specific types of metabolic acidosis each have their own treatments. People with hyperchloremic acidosis may be given oral sodium bicarbonate. Acidosis from kidney failure may be treated with sodium citrate. Diabetics with ketoacidosis receive IV fluids and insulin to balance out their pH. Lactic acidosis treatment might include bicarbonate supplements, IV fluids, oxygen, or antibiotics, depending on the cause.
Without prompt treatment, acidosis may lead to the following health complications:
You can’t completely prevent acidosis. However, there are some things you can do to lower your risk.
You can do the following to reduce your risk of respiratory acidosis:
You can do the following to reduce your risk of metabolic acidosis:
Some people fully recover from acidosis. Other people have problems with organ function, respiratory failure, and kidney failure. Severe acidosis can cause shock or even death.
How well you recover from acidosis depends on its cause. Fast, proper treatment also strongly influences your recovery.
Written by: Suzanne Allen, Kristeen Cherney, and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Medically reviewed on: Jun 06, 2017: Carissa Stephens, RN, CCRN, CPN
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