Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences
What is Metabolic Acidosis?
Your body needs to stay approximately around a given equilibrium to function normally. There is a little bit of wiggle room, but not much, and when things go awry, the body begins to suffer. Our blood is literally our life source - it carries oxygen to the body and helps remove waste materials so we can function properly. Under normal conditions, our blood pH is around 7.4, but sometimes this balance is thrown off and the blood becomes more acidic. This condition is called metabolic acidosis. In this scenario, the body is either producing too much acid, not getting rid of enough acid, or fails to make enough base to neutralize the acid. (A neutral pH value is 7.0; higher numbers are more basic or alkaline and lower numbers are more acidic.)
Causes of Metabolic Acidosis
Metabolic acidosis sounds like something out of a horror movie - acidic blood?! What would cause the body to do this? Well, there are a few known causes, some of which we'll discuss below.
- Ketoacidosis: The body creates ketones when it burns fats instead of carbohydrates for energy, and ketones make the blood acidic. When you are fasting, causing your body to switch to fats for fuel, or when you drink too much alcohol, you risk the build up of ketones in the blood. Diabetics are also at risk of this condition when the body fails to produce enough insulin.
- Lactic acidosis: Notice an acidosis trend here? The body's cells create lactic acid when they are deprived of oxygen. You may experience bouts of lactic acidosis during intense exercise or due to heart conditions.
- Renal tubular acidosis: Your kidneys are responsible for filtering waste materials out of your blood, including excess acids. When your kidneys fail to do their job due to an injury or illness, acids get left behind and can accumulate in the blood stream.
- Hyperchloremic acidosis: Bicarbonate is the base that helps neutralize acids in the blood. When the body is depleted of bicarbonate, due to kidney problems or dehydration, acids are not neutralized and can build up.
Symptoms of Metabolic Acidosis
Now that we know what causes metabolic acidosis, let's find out what the symptoms are! Diabetics have a unique symptom - fruity smelling breath! This provides an easy indicator for diabetics who need to monitor themselves. Symptoms for non-diabetics include some (but not necessary all) of the following:
- rapid breathing
- rapid heart rate
- feelings of weakness
- fatigue or tiredness
- lack of appetite
- nausea or vomiting
Ok, now we know what metabolic acidosis is, what causes it, and what the symptoms are. The next step is to figure out how to reverse the problem before the blood becomes too acidic. However, in order to treat it, you have to know what the symptoms are! Long-term acidosis can lead to problems with the bones, kidneys, and muscles, and it will eventually lead to death if left untreated!
A diabetic needs insulin if they go into diabetic ketoacidosis. For non-diabetics, the most commonly used treatments include detoxification, where the body is given fluids to help flush out the excess acids. People who have consumed too much alcohol or drugs may need to undergo detox until their blood pH returns to normal. For lactic acidosis, treatment may include bicarbonate, IV (intravenous) fluids, oxygen therapy, or antibiotics. Renal tubular acidosis is usually treated with sodium citrate. Hyperchloremic acidosis is typically treated with oral sodium bicarbonate.
We have learned all about metabolic acidosis now. We know that it is a condition where the concentration of acid in the blood rises to potentially dangerous levels. This could be due to a number of different reasons, which are outlined above. Symptoms may include rapid breathing or heart rate, confusion, fatigue, weakness, nausea, headaches, or confusion. Treating metabolic acidosis requires knowing the underlying cause, so once this is identified, the condition can be fixed. Typically, treatment options include various detoxification regimens, where fluids, bicarbonate, or even oxygen may be administered.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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