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Among hospitalized patients, lactic acidosis represents the most common cause of metabolic acidosis. Lactate is not just a metabolic product of anaerobic glycolysis but is triggered by a variety of metabolites even before the onset of anaerobic metabolism as part of an adaptive response to a hypermetabolic state. On the basis of such considerations, lactic acidosis is divided into two classes: inadequate tissue oxygenation (type A) and absence of tissue hypoxia (type B). Lactic acidosis is characterized by non-specific symptoms but it should be suspected in all critical patients who show hypovolemic, hypoxic, in septic or cardiogenic shock or if in the presence of an unexplained high anion gap metabolic acidosis. Lactic acidosis in sepsis and septic shock has traditionally been explained as a result of tissue hypoxia when whole-body oxygen delivery fails to meet whole body oxygen requirements. In sepsis lactate levels correlate with increased mortality with a poor prognostic threshold of 4 mmol/L. In hemodynamically stable patients with sepsis, hyperlactatemia might be the result of impaired lactate clearance rather than overproduction. In critically ill patients the speed at which hyperlactatemia resolves with appropriate therapy may be considered a useful prognostic indicator. The measure of blood lactate should be performed within 3 h of presentation in acute care setting. The presence of lactic acidosis requires early identification of the primary cause of shock for the best appropriate treatment. Since most cases of lactic acidosis depend on whole-body oxygen delivery failure, the maximization of systemic oxygen delivery remains the primary therapeutic option. When initial resuscitation does not substantially or completely correct lactic acidosis, it is also essential to consider other causes. The treatment of acidosis with buffering agents (specifically bicarbonate) is generally advocated only in the setting of severe acidosis. Ongoing research into lactate clearance and probable noninvasive surrogate measures may add further insight into outcome-based practices.
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