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Acidosis ˌas-ə-ˈdō-səs

By James L. Lewis, III, MD

Acidosis is excessive blood acidity caused by an overabundance of acid in the blood or a loss of bicarbonate from the blood (metabolic acidosis), or by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood that results from poor lung function or slow breathing (respiratory acidosis).

  • Blood acidity increases when people ingest substances that contain or produce acid or when the lungs do not expel enough carbon dioxide.

  • People with metabolic acidosis have nausea, vomiting, and fatigue and may breathe faster and deeper than normal.

  • People with respiratory acidosis have headache and confusion, and breathing may appear shallow, slow, or both.

  • Tests on blood samples show there is too much acid.

  • Doctors treat the cause of the acidosis.

If an increase in acid overwhelms the body's pH buffering systems, the blood will become acidic. As blood pH drops, the parts of the brain that regulate breathing are stimulated to produce faster and deeper breathing. Breathing faster and deeper increases the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled.

The kidneys also try to compensate by excreting more acid in the urine. However, both mechanisms can be overwhelmed if the body continues to produce too much acid, leading to severe acidosis and eventually coma.

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