Metabolic acidosis is a condition that occurs when the pH of blood falls below 7.35, which is an unnatural and unhealthy state for the body. Metabolic acidosis is slow to develop and the most common early symptoms are very non-specific to the disorder which makes early diagnosis difficult unless a blood gas test happens to be ordered.
There are two general causes for metabolic acidosis to occur. The first reason is because of an abnormal generation of acidic material inside the body. The second cause is because of the inability of the kidneys to properly regulate the blood’s pH using bicarbonate. Under normal, healthy conditions, the kidneys can react to small changes in blood pH by producing bicarbonate to neutralize acid. In the first situation, the amount of acid being produced in the body is so high that the kidneys cannot keep up. In the second situation, the amount of acid produced in the body is normal, but the malfunctioning kidneys let the acid build up slowly in the blood.
Common early symptoms of metabolic acidosis include chest pain, heart palpitations, headaches and a host of mental impairments including confusion, dizziness and anxiety. Digestive symptoms are also seen frequently and include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Because metabolic acidosis is slow to develop, there will be symptoms like weight loss and muscle wasting. A frequent and often important symptom is Kussmaul breathing, which are deep, rapid breaths. Untreated long term metabolic acidosis can result in loss of consciousness, coma, or death.
There are many causes of metabolic acidosis. The causes usually either greatly increase the amount of acid produced in the body, or diminish kidney function as related to bicarbonate production (acid neutralizer). One of the more frequent causes of metabolic acidosis is uncontrolled diabetes. In uncontrolled diabetes, and in diets similar to some low-carb diets, excessive amount of fats are metabolized by the body. A byproduct of this metabolism is the formation of ketones, which are highly acidic. Another frequent acid that can build up in the blood stream and cause metabolic acidosis is Lactic Acid. Lactic acid overproduction is commonly seen in alcoholics or people with liver damage, but it is also seen in athletes who participate in prolonged physical activities. The major causes of kidney malfunctions that result in metabolic acidosis are kidney disease, dehydration, and certain types of poisoning including aspirin and cyanide.
As metabolic acidosis is a condition and not a disease itself, there is no treatment other than attempts to correct the underlying condition causing the low pH. Bicarbonate is frequently given in severe cases that have progressed past the point of incremental treatment, but In most cases the metabolic acidosis can be reversed once treatment for the underlying condition commences.