What is acidosis?
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.
Causes of acidosis
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:
- chronic airway conditions, like asthma
- injury to the chest
- obesity, which can make breathing difficult
- sedative misuse
- overuse of alcohol
- muscle weakness in the chest
- problems with the nervous system
- deformed chest structure
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:
- Diabetic acidosis occurs in people with diabetes that’s poorly controlled. If your body lacks enough insulin, ketones build up in your body and acidify your blood.
- Hyperchloremic acidosis results from a loss of sodium bicarbonate. This base helps to keep the blood neutral. Both diarrhea and vomiting can cause this type of acidosis.
- Lactic acidosis occurs when there’s too much lactic acid in your body. Causes can include chronic alcohol use, heart failure, cancer, seizures, liver failure, prolonged lack of oxygen, and low blood sugar. Even prolonged exercise can lead to lactic acid buildup.
- Renal tubular acidosis occurs when the kidneys are unable to excrete acids into the urine. This causes the blood to become acidic.
Factors that can contribute to your risk of acidosis include:
- a high-fat diet that’s low in carbohydrates
- kidney failure
- aspirin or methanol poisoning
Symptoms of acidosis
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:
- fatigue or drowsiness
- becoming tired easily
- shortness of breath
Some of the common symptoms of metabolic acidosis include the following:
- rapid and shallow breathing
- lack of appetite
- increased heart rate
- breath that smells fruity, which is a sign of diabetic acidosis (ketoacidosis)
Without prompt treatment, acidosis may lead to the following health complications:
- kidney stones
- chronic kidney problems
- kidney failure
- bone disease
- delayed growth
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:
- Take sedatives as prescribed and never mix them with alcohol.
- Stop smoking. Smoking can damage your lungs and make breathing less effective.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can make it harder for you to breathe.
You can do the following to reduce your risk of metabolic acidosis:
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and other fluids.
- Keep control of your diabetes. If you manage your blood sugar levels well, you can avoid ketoacidosis.
- Stop drinking alcohol. Chronic drinking can increase the buildup of lactic acid.