Acidosis is a condition in which there is too much acid in the body fluids. It is the opposite of alkalosis (a condition in which there is too much base in the body fluids).
The kidneys and lungs maintain the balance (proper pH level) of chemicals called acids and bases in the body. Acidosis occurs when acid builds up or when bicarbonate (a base) is lost. Acidosis is classified as either respiratory or metabolic acidosis.
Respiratory acidosis develops when there is too much carbon dioxide (an acid) in the body. This type of acidosis is usually caused when the body is unable to remove enough carbon dioxide through breathing. Other names for respiratory acidosis are hypercapnic acidosis and carbon dioxide acidosis. Causes of respiratory acidosis include:
Metabolic acidosis develops when too much acid is produced in the body. It can also occur when the kidneys cannot remove enough acid from the body. There are several types of metabolic acidosis:
Lactic acidosis is a buildup of lactic acid. Lactic acid is mainly produced in muscle cells and red blood cells. It forms when the body breaks down carbohydrates to use for energy when oxygen levels are low. This can be caused by:
Metabolic acidosis symptoms depend on the underlying disease or condition. Metabolic acidosis itself causes rapid breathing. Confusion or lethargy may also occur. Severe metabolic acidosis can lead to shock or death.
Respiratory acidosis symptoms can include:
The health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms.
Laboratory tests that may be ordered include:
Other tests that may be needed to determine the cause of the acidosis include:
Treatment depends on the cause. Your provider will tell you more.
Acidosis can be dangerous if untreated. Many cases respond well to treatment.
Complications depend on the specific type of acidosis.
All the types of acidosis will cause symptoms that require treatment by your provider.
Prevention depends on the cause of the acidosis. Many causes of metabolic acidosis can be prevented, including diabetic ketoacidosis and some causes of lactic acidosis. Normally, people with healthy kidneys and lungs do not have serious acidosis.
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.