Lactic acid is a by-product of the process cells use to produce energy. As cells convert glucose to energy, they use oxygen. If there is not enough oxygen within the cell, the cell is still able to produce energy, but also produces lactic acid. The cells releases lactic acid into the blood, where it is converted to a similar molecule called lactate. High lactate levels within the blood can harm your cells, the University of New Mexico warns.
Causes of Elevated Lactate Levels
There are certain conditions that cause a decrease in oxygen levels and thus lactic acidosis. Severe hypoxia, such as in patients in shock, congestive heart failure, liver disease and lung disease are all possible causes of elevated lactate levels, according to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health. These diseases force the body to make energy without having enough oxygen. Elevated lactate levels can lead to severe complications.
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Symptoms of Lactic Acidosis
Lactic acidosis is a disorder that occurs when lactate levels in your bloodstream rise above the normal limits. Symptoms of this condition include an abnormal heartbeat, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, inflammation of the pancreas, fatigue, weight loss and enlargement of the liver, AidsHealth.org explains. If you experience these symptoms, immediately consult your doctor, as lactic acidosis is a potentially life-threatening condition.
Measuring Lactate Levels
Measuring lactate levels requires a blood test called a lactic acid test. Blood is drawn from a vein and the amount of lactic acid in the sample is measured. Normal lactate levels range from 4.5 mg/dL to 19.8 mg/dL, MedlinePlus cites. Do not exercise for several hours prior to taking the test because exercising can temporarily increase lactic acid levels. Lactic acid tests are typically performed only in patients suspected of having lactic acidosis. Normally, lactic acid tests are not part of a annual physical exam.
Treatment of Lactic Acidosis
Once lactic acidosis is diagnosed, treatment is started immediately. Initial treatment focuses on providing the patient with oxygen, which reduces the amount of lactic acid produced by your cells. The temporary administration of oxygen reverses the symptoms of lactic acidosis and prevents any possible complications.
Treatment must also focus on diagnosing and reversing the proximate cause of the lactic acidosis, "The New York Times Health Guide" reports. Once the underlying medical cause is treated, the patient's lactate levels should return to normal.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.