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What Is an Acid-Base Imbalance?

By Glyn Sinclair
Updated Feb 10, 2024
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An acid-base imbalance is when the acid and base fluids in the body are disrupted and thrown out of balance. When the fluids are in the normal range they are said to be close to a neutral pH state. This means that the body fluids, or plasma, are neither alkaline nor acidic. Any plasma pH balance higher than 7.45 is considered to be alkaline, or base, and anything below 7.35 is acidic. Pure water has a neutral pH balance of 7.0.

There are many symptoms associated with the body’s inability to keep the fluids in pH balance. These can include headaches, increased interior skull pressure, confusion and even coma. The more out of balance the pH balance is, the more severe the symptoms can be. Small fluctuations in the body’s acid-base balance are thought to be quite common and their occurrence usually goes unnoticed. It is also not known what the medical consequences of these minor shifts are.

Acid-base imbalance can be caused by many different factors and illnesses. A diet that is high in animal protein, for instance, can create a condition known as metabolic acidosis. This is when the kidneys are unable to get rid of sufficient amounts of acid from the body. This can lead to a condition called acidemia, or a pH that is below 7.35, and can lead to coma and even death. Metabolic acidosis and respiratory acidosis are both causes for acidemia.

Respiratory acidosis is a condition when the lungs are unable to scrub the body of carbon dioxide. This can create a circumstance where the bodily fluids become too acidic in nature. Obesity, lung disease, and certain powerful pain medications all can cause respiratory acidosis to occur. This acid-base imbalance can happen gradually, or build up levels of carbon dioxide quickly, known as acute respiratory acidosis. The symptoms of this condition can include confusion, fatigue and shortness of breath.

It is thought that mild or chronic metabolic acidosis can also be caused by vigorous exercise, as this can raise the amounts of lactic acid in the system. Prolonged fasting and diarrhea are also thought to be connected to metabolic acidosis as well. Metabolic alkalosis is an acid-base imbalance whereby the pH balance of the tissue is higher than the accepted range of 7.35 to 7.45. This is caused when there are increased levels of bicarbonate present. There are several reasons for this condition, including loss of hydrogen ions due to vomiting, congenital chloride diarrhea, and contraction alkalosis, which can be caused from use of diuretics.

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Discussion Comments

By Orrianna123 — On Oct 02, 2013

How does the body maintain the correct acid base balance? (science)

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