Acidemia Vs. Acidosis

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Screening of infants can help catch cases of acidemia and acidosis.
Screening of infants can help catch cases of acidemia and acidosis. (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of foundphotoslj)

In medicine, doctors, nurses and lab technicians sometimes use terms interchangeably that are very closely related, but which technically are different. One example is acidemia and acidosis. Although both of these terms refer to an abnormally low pH level in the body, they are not the same thing and should be treated accordingly.

Acidosis Defined

Acidosis refers to all of the physical processes and chemical reactions that result in an abnormally low pH. Specifically, it refers to the metabolism of substances that can be broken down into acids. Acidosis may lead to acidemia if the physical processes and chemical reactions of metabolism result in a pH level that is low enough. Acidosis may involve bodily fluids other than just blood.

Acidemia Defined

Acidemia is the state of having an abnormally low pH level (less than 7.35). Specifically, acidemia refers to a low pH level in the blood (all medical terms ending in "emia" generally mean "in the blood"). A person cannot have acidemia without some abnormality in metabolic processes (acidosis). Acidemia is the actual diagnosis given by a physician.

Causes

Acidosis can be caused by respiratory issues such as pneumonia, or it can result when a person takes certain medications, has diabetes or has kidney failure. In this sense, acidosis is not necessarily a symptom of a genetic problem.

Acidemias are a set of specific organic disorders that have genetic links. The genetic problems are what make it difficult for acids to be metabolized by the body and which therefore start the acidosis process.

Acidosis Cure

Acidosis can be cured. For example, if a person has pneumonia that lowers pH in the blood, the metabolic problems are corrected once the pneumonia infection is defeated by the body's immune system. Acidosis caused by kidney failure can be remedied through kidney transplants. The cure thus will differ based on what is interrupting normal metabolism of acids.

Acidemia Cure

Acidemia often cannot be cured because it typically has a genetic link; genetic research is being done to find the exact genes related to acidemia cases so that gene therapy may be prescribed and improved. Symptoms of acidemia may be relieved somewhat through dietary changes (eating less protein), intravenous bicarbonate and dialysis.

Symptoms

Symptoms of acidosis and acidemia may be the same. They include nausea, vomiting, fatigue and drowsiness. However, because acidemia technically requires a pH level below 7.35, acidemia symptoms may be worse than for mild acidosis and also may include low blood pressure, shock, coma and even death.

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