How Does Lactic Acidosis Affect Diabetes?

Lactic acidosis can cause potentially fatal symptoms of metabolic acidosis, a dangerous condition that diabetics with poorly maintained blood sugar are already at high risk for, states Healthline. Diabetics have several risk factors for this condition, due to how their disorder alters their blood sugar levels.

Acidosis is a serious medical condition that develops when a patient's blood becomes too acidic, states Merck Manual. There are two main kinds: metabolic and respiratory. Metabolic acidosis is the kind that causes problems for diabetics, and it has a variety of triggers, including high levels of lactic acid in the blood. This is called lactic acidosis.

Diabetics are especially prone to another subtype of metabolic acidosis, called diabetic ketoacidosis. Medline Plus describes this condition as occurring when fat is broken down by the body instead of sugar because blood sugar levels are too low.

However, low sugar levels can also trigger lactic acidosis, states Healthline. In addition, the diabetes medication metformin can cause lactic acidosis, according to the Diabetes Self-Management website. Although this is a rare side effect, the chances are increased if the patient is a regular drinker or has liver or kidney disease.

Whether caused by low blood sugar levels or medication, lactic acidosis in diabetics is life-threatening. Both lactic acidosis and diabetic ketoacidosis lead to the characteristic symptoms of metabolic acidosis: rapid breath, confusion, fatigue, nausea, and muscle weakness, notes Merck Manuals. If not treated, the patient's blood pressure may dramatically fall, leading to coma or death.