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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 mg/dL (0.5 to 2.2 mmol/L)

Note: mg/dL = milligrams per deciliter; mmol/L = millimoles per liter

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor 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.

References

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

Review Date:5/3/2015
Reviewed By:Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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