Difference of Respiratory and Metabolic Acidosis

Health / Life

A woman having back pain due to having an acidosis in the kidney. / Photo by: Getty Images


Acidosis occurs when the body fluids contain excessive acid. Such acid condition means that the lungs and kidneys cannot maintain the body’s potential of hydrogen (pH) in balance. The kidneys and lungs cannot usually compensate even for the slight imbalances of pH and problems with these body organs may lead to excess acid building up in the body.

Acidosis comes in two types and each of them has various causes. Acidosis can be categorized as metabolic acidosis or respiratory acidosis.


What is Metabolic Acidosis?

A color chart of the urine to determine if you are acidic or not and if you drink enough water or not. / Photo by: Getty Images


Metabolic acidosis begins in the kidneys. It is a clinical disturbance characterized by an increase in plasma acidity. It occurs when the kidneys are getting rid of too much base or when they are not properly eliminating enough acid from the body. If unchecked, metabolic acidosis may lead to "acidemia" or low pH in the blood.


Major Forms of Metabolic Acidosis

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Metabolic acidosis come in several major forms. It includes diabetic acidosis, hyperchloremic acidosis, lactic acidosis, and renal tubular acidosis.

Diabetic acidosis happens in people with a poorly controlled diabetes. If the body lacks proper insulin, ketones will build in the body and it acidifies the blood.

Hyperchloremic acidosis result from sodium bicarbonate loss. The purpose of sodium bicarbonate is to relieve heartburn, acid indigestion, and sour stomach by neutralizing the excess acid in the stomach. Both vomiting and diarrhea may cause this form of acidosis.

Lactic acidosis occurs when there is too much lactic acid in the body. The causes may include low blood sugar, prolonged lack of oxygen, liver failure, seizures, cancer, heart failure, and chronic alcohol use. Prolonged exercise can also lead to a buildup of lactic acid. 
Renal tubular acidosis happens when the kidneys cannot excrete the acids into the urine, causing the blood to be acidic.

What is Respiratory Acidosis?

A man suffering from respiratory acidosis. / Photo by: Getty Images


Respiratory acidosis is when there is too much build up of CO2 in the body. Normally, the lungs will remove the CO2 as you breathe. However, there are times when the body cannot get enough Co2, which may be due to chronic airway conditions, such as asthma, obesity that makes breathing difficult, chest injury, deformed chest structure, problems in the nervous system, chest muscle weakness, alcohol overdose, and sedative misuse.


What is the Difference of Respiratory Alkalosis?

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Respiratory alkalosis, on the other hand, happens when there is an unbalanced level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Our body needs oxygen in order to properly function. When we inhale, we introduce oxygen into the lungs. When we exhale, we release carbon dioxide. The respiratory system normally keeps the two gases in balance.

When a person breathes too deep or too fast and the level of carbon dioxide drop too low, respiratory alkalosis occurs. This causes the pH level of the blood to be too alkaline.

The common physical effects of respiratory alkalosis include dizziness, feeling lightheaded, bloating, muscle spasms or numbness in feet and hands, chest area discomfort, dry mouth, confusion, heart palpitations, short of breath feeling, and tingling in the arms.


Understanding More of Acidosis and Alkalosis

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Acidosis and alkalosis both describe the abnormal conditions resulting from pH imbalance. It is caused by an excess of alkali (base) or acid. Typically, this imbalance is caused by other underlying disease or condition. A normal pH needs to be maintained within the range of 7.35- 7.45 to make sure of metabolic processes proper functioning and the delivery of proper oxygen amount to the tissues.


What are the Available Acidosis Treatments?

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To determine the appropriate acidosis treatment, doctors will usually first have to know the cause. One treatment approach is by giving the patient with a sodium bicarbonate in order to raise the pH level in the blood. It can be done intravenously or by mouth. 

The treatment for respiratory acidosis is designed usually to help the lungs, such as drugs that will dilate the airway or a continuous positive airway pressure to help one breathe if they have muscle weakness or an obstructed airway.