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Common Causes of Metabolic Acidosis

By Joseph Pritchard ; Updated July 18, 2017

Metabolic acidosis is a condition that occurs when too much acid accumulates within the body. Metabolic acidosis is typically caused by underlying conditions that cause the excess acid levels. Patients with metabolic acidosis develop rapid breathing, confusion, lethargy, shock and, in untreated cases, death, according to MedlinePlus, a National Institutes of Health website. Treatment focuses on curing the diseases causing the metabolic acidosis.

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus can cause metabolic acidosis. The disease prevents the body from utilizing sugar within the bloodstream. Therefore, the body breaks down fat and protein for energy. The by-products of this degradation are molecules called ketones. Ketones are acidic substances that build up in patients with untreated diabetes. High ketone levels lead to a specific kind of metabolic acidosis called diabetic ketoacidosis. This condition can be fatal if medical treatment is not provided immediately.

Kidney Disease

Typically, acid is filtered through the kidneys and excreted in the urine. However, patients with severe kidney disease are unable to properly filter and eliminate the acid from the bloodstream. Therefore, kidney disease can be a cause of metabolic acidosis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Distal tubular acidosis and proximal renal tubular acidosis are diseases associated with metabolic acidosis. Treating the underlying kidney disease often results in a prompt reduction in acid levels.

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Increased Lactic Acid Levels

The body produces lactic acid during anaerobic respiration. The lactic acid builds up in the body and is removed by the liver. Increased production of lactic acid or diseases that prevent the removal of the acid can lead to metabolic acidosis, according to MedlinePlus. Lactic acidosis can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, cancer, prolonged exercise, liver failure or seizures. Each of these conditions can cause a sudden increase in lactic acid levels, resulting in metabolic acidosis.

Poisoning or Overdose

Taking large amounts of aspirin or ingesting poisons such as ethylene glycol or methanol can cause metabolic acidosis, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. In large amounts, aspirin causes a drastic increase in acid levels within the body. Other poisons may increase the production of acid within the body, prevent the removal of acid from the body or both. Treatment for metabolic acidosis caused by poisoning includes removing any lingering traces of the drug from the body and repairing any damage done by the poison.

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