Lactic acidosis refers to lactic acid build up in the bloodstream. Lactic acid is produced when oxygen levels become low in cells within the areas of the body where metabolism takes place or in response to sympathetic overactivity related to epinephrine-type substances or exercise.
The most common cause of lactic acidosis is severe medical illness in which blood pressure is low and too little oxygen is reaching the body's tissues. Intense exercise or convulsions can cause temporary lactic acidosis. Certain diseases can also cause the condition, including:
- Cyanide poisoning
- Kidney failure
- Respiratory failure
- Sepsis (severe infection)
Some medicines can rarely cause lactic acidosis:
- Beta adrenergic agonist inhalers used to treat asthma or COPD (albuterol and salmeterol)
- Metformin, used to treat diabetes (most often when overdosed)
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors used to treat HIV infection
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
Tests may include a blood test to check lactate and electrolyte levels.
The main treatment for lactic acidosis is to correct the medical problem that causes the condition.
McCoin NS, Self WH. Acid-base disorders. In: Walls RM, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 113.
Palmer BF. Metabolic acidosis. In: Feehally J, Floege J, Tonelli M, Johnson RJ, eds. Comprehensive Clinical Nephrology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 12.
Seifter JL. Acid-base disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 110.
Review Date 10/25/2022
Updated by: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.