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The information contained on this page is provided as general health information and is not intended to substitute as medical advice and direction from your physician or health care provider. Please direct any questions related to your health care provider. In an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency center.


Lactic acid test

Definition

Lactic acid is mainly produced in muscle cells and red blood cells. It forms when the body breaks down carbohydrates to use for energy when oxygen levels are low. Times when your body's oxygen level might drop include:

  • During intense exercise
  • When you have an infection or disease

A test can be done to measure the amount of lactic acid in the blood.

Alternative Names

Lactate test

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed. Most of the time blood is drawn from a vein located on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.

How to Prepare for the Test

DO NOT exercise for several hours before the test. Exercise can cause a temporary increase in lactic acid levels.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel slight pain or a sting when the needle is inserted. You may also feel some throbbing at the site after the blood is drawn.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is most often done to diagnose lactic acidosis.

Normal Results

4.5 to 19.8 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) (0.5 to 2.2 millimoles per liter [mmol/L])

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results mean that body tissues are not getting enough oxygen.

Conditions that can increase lactic acid levels include:

  • Heart failure
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Not enough blood containing oxygen getting to a certain area of the body
  • Severe infection that affects the entire body (sepsis)
  • Very low levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia)

Considerations

Clenching the fist or having the elastic band in place for a long time while having blood drawn can result in a false increase in lactic acid level.

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Blood test

References

Nimmo GR, Walsh T. Critical illness. In: Walker BR, Colledge NR, Ralston SH, Penman ID, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 8.

Seifter JL. Acid-base disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 118.