Your body's pH level -- an indicator of acidity and alkalinity -- depends on the amount of certain substances in your body, such as carbon dioxide, an acid, and bicarbonate, a base. Your body requires a specific pH level to function properly, and any deviations can cause a health crisis because body systems become impaired. When acidity levels are low that means your body is too alkaline, a condition called alkalosis. A pH level greater than 7.45 meets the clinical definition of alkalosis, according to "Human Anatomy and Physiology."
The different forms of acid in your body -- from carbon dioxide in the respiratory system to hydrochloric acid in the stomach -- play a vital role in various essential biochemical reactions. Alkalosis develops, either because your body acquires too much base, or because it loses too much acid too rapidly, Merck Manuals reports. In both scenarios, the result is a pH level that becomes too alkaline faster than the body can work to fix the imbalance. Alkalosis can occur for several reasons, based on whether respiratory or metabolic function is the cause.
Respiratory alkalosis results from rapid breathing that causes the body to emit too much carbon dioxide too quickly. Because carbon dioxide functions as an acid in the body, this causes alkalinity to rise. Causes of respiratory alkalosis include such minor conditions as hyperventilation and high fever, but also more serious conditions such as chronic respiratory diseases that impair breathing, liver disease and salicylate poisoning, MedlinePlus reports. Even being at high altitudes can cause excess carbon dioxide emissions, leading to alkalosis.
Metabolic alkalosis occurs less commonly than the respiratory form. It typically develops when too much acid is lost from the stomach, either via excessive vomiting or because the stomach had to be suctioned, Merck reports. Less commonly, you can develop metabolic alkalosis from consuming large quantities of alkaline substances, such as baking soda. Malfunctioning kidneys can also contribute to alkalosis if they body excretes too much sodium and potassium, altering your pH level.
Signs and Symptoms
When your acid levels drop too low, many of your body systems may become impaired, causing a variety of symptoms that may seem unrelated. Nausea and vomiting can occur, along with muscle twitches, hand tremors, lightheadedness and numbness and tingling in the extremities, MedlinePlus reports. As the condition progresses, neurological and muscle function can deteriorate even further, causing confusion or even a coma, along with prolonged muscle contractions.
If blood testing shows your acid levels are too low, medical professionals will determine the cause before deciding on a course of treatment. In cases of respiratory alkalosis, oxygen therapy can help bring pH levels into a normal range. If you are hyperventilating, breathing into a paper bag can help because you will rebreathe some of the carbon dioxide your body needs to add more acid to your bloodstream. For metabolic acidosis, treatment often involves treating the cause, such as kidney malfunction, while also replacing lost fluids and electrolytes. In cases where the acidity is so low that the nervous system becomes impaired, doctors may opt to give a diluted form of acid intravenously.
- "Human Anatomy and Physiology"; Elaine N. Marieb, RN and PhD, and Katja Hoehn, MD and PhD; 2010
- MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia; Alkalosis; Nov. 15, 2009
- Merck; Alkalosis; James Lewis; July 2008