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Acid and Base Disorders

pH Review:

ž pH = – log [H+]

ž H+ is really a proton

ž Range is from 0 – 14

ž If [H+] is high, the solution is acidic; pH < 7

ž If [H+] is low, the solution is basic or alkaline ; pH > 7

ž Acids are H+ donors.

ž Bases are H+ acceptors, or give up OH- in solution.

ž Acids and bases can be:

ž Strong – dissociate completely in solution

ž HCl, NaOH

ž Weak – dissociate only partially in solution

ž Lactic acid, carbonic acid

The Body and pH:

ž Homeostasis of pH is tightly controlled

ž Extracellular fluid = 7.4

ž Blood = 7.35 – 7.45

ž < 6.8 or > 8.0 death occurs

ž Acidosis (acidemia) below 7.35

ž Alkalosis (alkalemia) above 7.45

Small pH changes produce major disturbances:

ž Most enzymes function only with narrow pH ranges

ž Acid-base balance can also affect electrolytes (Na+, K+, Cl-)

ž Can also affect hormones

Body produces more acids than bases:

ž Acids take in with foods

ž Acids produced by metabolism of lipids and proteins

ž Cellular metabolism produces CO2.

ž CO2 + H20 ↔ H2CO3 H+ + HCO3-

Control of Acids:

  1. Buffer systems

Take up H+ or release H+ as conditions change

Buffer pairs – weak acid and a base

Exchange a strong acid or base for a weak one

Results in a much smaller pH change

2. Bicarbonate Buffer

Sodium Bicarbonate (NaHCO3) and carbonic acid (H2CO3)

ž Maintain a 20:1 ratio : HCO3- : H2CO3

HCl + NaHCO3 ↔ H2CO3 + NaCl

NaOH + H2CO3 ↔ NaHCO3 + H2O

3. Phosphate Buffer

ž Major intracellular buffer

ž H+ + HPO42- ↔ H2PO4-

ž OH- + H2PO4- ↔ H2O + H2PO42-

4. Protein buffers

ž Includes hemoglobin, work in blood and ISF

ž Carboxyl group gives up H+

ž Amino Group accepts H+

ž Side chains that can buffer H+ are present on 27 amino acids.

2) Respiratiory Mechanisms:

ž Exhalation of carbon dioxide

ž Powerful, but only works with volatile acids

ž Doesn’t affect fixed acids like lactic acid

ž CO2 + H20 ↔ H2CO3 H+ + HCO3-

ž Body pH can be adjusted by changing rate and depth of breathing

3) Kidney Excretion

ž Can eliminate large amounts of acid

ž Can also excrete base

ž Can conserve and produce bicarb ions

ž Most effective regulator of pH

ž If kidneys fail, pH balance fails

Rates of Correction

ž Buffers function almost instantaneously

ž Respiratory mechanisms take several minutes to hours

ž Renal mechanisms may take several hours to days

Acid Base Imbalances

ž pH< 7.35 acidosis

ž pH > 7.45 alkalosis

ž The body response to acid-base imbalance is called compensation

ž May be complete if brought back within normal limits

ž Partial compensation if range is still outside norms.


ž If underlying problem is metabolic, hyperventilation or hypoventilation can help : respiratory compensation.

ž If problem is respiratory, renal mechanisms can bring about metabolic compensation.


ž Principal effect of acidosis is depression of the CNS through ↓ in synaptic transmission.

ž Generalized weakness

ž Deranged CNS function the greatest threat

ž Severe acidosis causes





ž Alkalosis causes over excitability of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

ž Numbness

ž Lightheadedness

ž It can cause :


muscle spasms or tetany


Loss of consciousness


Respiratory Acidosis

ž Carbonic acid excess caused by blood levels of CO2 above 45 mm Hg.

ž Hypercapnia – high levels of CO2 in blood

ž Chronic conditions:

Depression of respiratory center in brain that controls breathing rate – drugs or head trauma

Paralysis of respiratory or chest muscles


ž Acute conditons:

Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Pulmonary edema


Compensations for Respiratory Acidosis

ž Kidneys eliminate hydrogen ion and retain bicarbonate ion

Signs and Symptoms of Respiratory Acidosis

ž Breathlessness

ž Restlessness

ž Lethargy and disorientation

ž Tremors, convulsions, coma

ž Respiratory rate rapid, then gradually depressed

ž Skin warm and flushed due to vasodilation caused by excess CO2

Treatment of Respiratory Acidosis

ž Restore ventilation

ž IV lactate solution

ž Treat underlying dysfunction or disease

Respiratory Alkalosis

ž Carbonic acid deficit

ž pCO2 less than 35 mm Hg (hypocapnea)

ž Most common acid-base imbalance

ž Primary cause is hyperventilation

ž Conditions that stimulate respiratory center:

ž Oxygen deficiency at high altitudes

ž Pulmonary disease and Congestive heart failure – caused by hypoxia

ž Acute anxiety

ž Fever, anemia

ž Early salicylate intoxication

ž Cirrhosis

ž Gram-negative sepsis

Compensation of Respiratory Alkalosis

ž Kidneys conserve hydrogen ion

ž Excrete bicarbonate ion

Treatment of Respiratory Alkalosis

ž Treat underlying cause

ž Breathe into a paper bag

ž IV Chloride containing solution – Cl- ions replace lost bicarbonate ions

Metabolic Acidosis

ž Bicarbonate deficit – blood concentrations of bicarb drop below 22mEq/L

ž Causes:

Loss of bicarbonate through diarrhea or renal dysfunction

Accumulation of acids (lactic acid or ketones)

Failure of kidneys to excrete H+

Symptoms of Metabolic Acidosis

ž Headache, lethargy

ž Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

ž Coma

ž Death

Compensation for Metabolic Acidosis

ž Increased ventilation

ž Renal excretion of hydrogen ions if possible

ž K+ exchanges with excess H+ in ECF

ž ( H+ into cells, K+ out of cells)

Treatment of Metabolic Acidosis

ž IV lactate solution

Metabolic Alkalosis

ž Bicarbonate excess concentration in blood is greater than 26 mEq/L

ž Causes:

Excess vomiting = loss of stomach acid

Excessive use of alkaline drugs

Certain diuretics

Endocrine disorders

Heavy ingestion of antacids

Severe dehydration

Compensations for Metabolic Alkalosis

ž Alkalosis most commonly occurs with renal dysfunction, so can’t count on kidneys

ž Respiratory compensation difficult – hypoventilation limited by hypoxia

Symptoms for Metabolic Alkalosis

ž Respiration slow and shallow

ž Hyperactive reflexes ; tetany

ž Often related to depletion of electrolytes

ž Atrial tachycardia

ž Dysrhythmias

Treatment of Metabolic Alkalosis

ž Electrolytes to replace those lost

ž IV chloride containing solution

ž Treat underlying disorder

Diagnosis of Acid Base Disorder

  1. Note whether the pH is low (acidosis) or high (alkalosis)
  2. Decide which value, pCO2 or HCO3- , is outside the normal range and could be the cause of the problem. If the cause is a change in pCO2, the problem is respiratory. If the cause is HCO3- the problem is metabolic.
  3. Look at the value that doesn’t correspond to the observed pH change. If it is inside the normal range, there is no compensation occurring. If it is outside the normal range, the body is partially compensating for the problem.

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