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What Is Lactic Acidosis?

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    Definition

    • Lactic acidosis is an acidification of the blood by elevated levels of lactic acid, produced by low levels of oxygen. The medical definition of lactic acidosis is any level of lactic acid above 4-5mmol/L (millimoles per liter).

    Chemical Process

    • As muscles fire and use glucose, they create lactic acid. Oxygen is required to process lactic acid; if oxygen levels are insufficient, the lactic acid that is being produced stays in muscles instead of being used for energy or processed.
      Lactic acidosis also occurs when mitochondria are unable to properly interact with oxygen to process lactic acid.

    Causes

    • Athletes often experience lactic acidosis during intense exercise, as their muscles are using oxygen faster than it can be replaced and creating lactic acid faster than it can be processed. This type of lactic acidosis is minor, and although it can result in muscle fatigue and shortness of breath, exercise-induced lactic acidosis is normally quickly resolved when muscles and the body are given time to recover.
      Some genetic conditions related to mitochondria or glycogen storage can also cause lactic acidosis. Because the liver is also involved in cleaning lactic acid from the bloodstream, lactic acidosis can be associated with liver disease. Other physiological problems that can cause lactic acidosis include septic shock, hypoxia, excessive hemorrhaging and diabetes.
      In rare cases, some HIV/AIDS drugs interfere with mitochondria, which can also result in lactic acidosis. Lactic acidosis is also a side effect of some anti-diabetic drugs.

    Effects

    • The most common side effect of lactic acidosis is muscle fatigue and shortness of breath. As blood acidification increases, you may find an increased heart rate, nausea and vomiting and stomach cramps. High levels of lactic acidosis can result in septic shock.

    Treatment

    • The main treatment for exercise-induced lactic acidosis is giving muscles a chance to recover. Active recovery--continuing to use the muscles but at a less-intense rate--may increase recovery speed. Training can also increase the muscle efficiency, which will help prevent lactic acidosis.
      Because lactic acidosis is a symptom of an underlying problem, treatment for lactic acidosis consists of identifying and correcting the larger issue. This may include treatment for liver disease, changing drug therapy or a number of other procedures.
      Short-term treatment may include IV therapy with saline.

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