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What do high lactic acid levels mean?

Written by andy

The reasons why your body is producing so much acid…

Lactic acid is a byproduct of exercise, as it’s produced by your muscles as a result of burning ATP energy. For the most part, the presence of lactic acid in your body means you’ve been working out hard and pushing your body. The lactic acid production increases as a result of anaerobic exercise.

But what if you have high lactic acid levels and you haven’t been exercising? High levels of lactic acid can be dangerous, potentially fatal in very serious cases. Understanding what causes elevated lactic acid levels will enable you to take steps to diagnose and treat the underlying problems.

There are a number of things that can be behind the high lactic acid levels:

  • Heart problems – There are a number of cardiac conditions and heart problems that can cause elevated lactic acid levels. For example, severe bleeding and shock can lead to higher production of lactic acid, as can severe infections. If there is a blockage of blood flow to your intestines, the result may be an increase in lactic acid. Carbon monoxide poisoning, heart failure, and pulmonary embolisms are also contributors to excessively high lactic acid production.
  • Dehydration – The body needs potassium to eliminate water, but it also needs to eliminate the lactic acid that builds up when you exercise. When you are very dehydrated, your body is unable to get rid of the lactic acid. As a result, high lactic acid levels are often a side effect of dehydration.
  • Liver damage – Liver disease and liver damage make it difficult for your liver to break down the lactic acid present in your bloodstream. When the liver can’t process the lactic acid, the result is higher concentrations of the acid. High levels of lactic acid may be an indicator of minor liver damage, or even more serious liver failure.
  • Blood problems – Anemia can be a contributor to high lactic acid levels, as the lack of red blood cells stops your body from cleaning out your blood. If your lactic acid levels are off the charts, it may also be a sign of leukemia.

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  • Medicines – Did you know that certain medications can increase the production of lactic acid or make it harder for your body to eliminate acids? A tuberculosis medication called isoniazid and a diabetes medication called metformin will both raise your levels of lactic acid.
  • Exercise – Moderate and vigorous exercise can lead to an increase in lactic acid production, but it is usually safe, normal levels. However, if you perform highly vigorous or strenuous exercise for long periods of time, you may end up suffering from high levels of lactic acid. In cases of exercise in high heat situations, excessive lactic acid production is another negative side effect.
  • Poisoning – There are a surprising number of things that can poison your body and cause high levels of lactic acid. For example, ethanol alcohol can be the cause of the problem, as can antifreeze (ethylene glycol) and wood alcohol (methanol). These poisons will raise your body’s natural lactic acid production to dangerous levels.

The good news is that a healthy body will only produce normal amounts of lactic acid. As long as you are taking care of yourself and getting enough rest, you’ll be able to recover from your workout without excessive lactic acid production.

However, if you notice the symptoms of lactic acidosis—clammy skin, excessive sweating, confusion, vomiting, nausea, belly pain, sweet-smelling breath, rapid breathing, and coma—it may be a good idea to get checked out to find the underlying cause of the problem.

About the author


Some people get lucky and are born with fit, toned bodies. Andy Peloquin is not one of those people... Fitness has come hard for him, and he's had to work for it. His trials have led him to becoming a martial artist, an NFPT-certified fitness trainer, and a man passionate about exercise, diet and healthy living. He loves to exercise--he does so six days a week--and loves to share his passion for fitness and health with others.

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