What Are the Different Causes of Lactic Acidosis?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 11 May 2020
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Lactic acidosis, a condition caused by a build-up of lactate in the body, can be caused by any health condition that affects the bodily functions or organs responsible for processing the substance, including the blood, oxygen flow, and issues with the kidney or liver. Generally, treatment for this condition involves focusing on the root cause, although some medications can help short-term. This condition is most commonly caused by very intense physical activity, which results in an overproduction of lactate and a decrease in oxygen flow. It can also be caused by circulation issues, which prevent the blood from moving lactate through the body, or numerous respiratory problems such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that restrict oxygen. Failure of the liver or kidney, both of which play a significant role in its breakdown, can also cause it to build-up in the body, resulting in lactic acidosis.

This condition usually occurs when a person engages in vigorous physical activity, typically when exercising. Lactate is created when the metabolism burns glucose for energy, and, once the metabolism begins to work extremely quickly, it can cause the body to produce more lactate than it can typically get rid of in a timely manner. In addition to this, extreme physical activity can make it difficult for one to receive enough oxygen, which can compound the build-up problem, making the body work more slowly to get rid of lactate. In most cases, a person will quickly get to a point where he or she can no longer exercise at that capacity. Once the body slows down, it will usually begin to catch up in processing the lactate and levels will most likely return to normal.

As lactate builds up in the blood stream before it is processed by the body, any disruption in circulation can cause a backlog. Known as ischemia, this is one of several causes of lactic acidosis that can occur nearly anywhere in the body, including the heart and brain. In most cases, once the blockage is treated, with options ranging from medication to surgery, the body will once again begin processing lactate at a normal rate.

In addition to issues with circulation, a lack of oxygen flow can also cause this condition. The human body requires oxygen to perform every function, including breaking down this substance. Anything that interrupts a person’s ability to receive adequate oxygen can be one of the causes of lactic acidosis. This can include asthmatic attacks, COPD, or lung failure due to any number of diseases. As with the other causes of lactic acidosis, it can only be treated once the root problem is resolved, although, depending on the issue, a medication may be used temporarily to aid in managing acidosis.

The liver and kidneys are primarily responsible for breaking lactate down so it does not build-up in the body. As with the other causes of lactic acidosis, anything that disrupts the function of either of these organs can diminish the body’s ability to break down lactate. Once the causes of lactic acidosis are fixed, whether the problem is with the kidneys or liver, levels will typically return to normal.


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