Your blood is made up of acids and bases. The amount of acids and bases in your blood can be measured on a pH scale. It’s important to maintain the correct balance between acids and bases. Even a slight change can cause health problems. Normally, your blood should have a slightly higher amount of bases than acids.
Alkalosis occurs when your body has too many bases. It can occur due to decreased blood levels of carbon dioxide, which is an acid. It can also occur due to increased blood levels of bicarbonate, which is a base.
This condition may also be related to other underlying health issues such as low potassium, or hypokalemia. The earlier it’s detected and treated, the better the outcome is.
The five types of alkalosis
There are five main types of alkalosis.
Respiratory alkalosis occurs when there isn’t enough carbon dioxide in your bloodstream. It’s often caused by:
- hyperventilation, which commonly occurs with anxiety
- high fever
- lack of oxygen
- salicylate poisoning
- being in high altitudes
- liver disease
- lung disease
Metabolic alkalosis develops when your body loses too much acid or gains too much base. This can be attributed to:
- excess vomiting, which causes electrolyte loss
- overuse of diuretics
- adrenal disease
- a large loss of potassium or sodium in a short amount of time
- accidental ingestion of bicarbonate, which can be found in baking soda
- alcohol abuse
Hypochloremic alkalosis occurs when there’s a significant decline of chloride in your body. This can be due to prolonged vomiting or sweating. Chloride is an important chemical needed to maintain balance in bodily fluids, and it’s an essential part of your body’s digestive fluids.
Hypokalemic alkalosis occurs when your body lacks the normal amount of the mineral potassium. You normally get potassium from your food, but not eating enough of it is rarely the cause of a potassium deficiency. Kidney disease, excessive sweating, and diarrhea are just a few ways you can lose too much potassium. Potassium is essential to the proper functioning of the:
- nervous system
- digestive system
Symptoms of alkalosis
Symptoms of alkalosis can vary. In the early stages of the condition, you may have:
- prolonged muscle spasms
- muscle twitching
- hand tremors
If alkalosis isn’t treated right away, severe symptoms can develop. These symptoms could lead to shock or coma. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience any of these symptoms:
The symptoms of alkalosis mimic symptoms of other conditions. It’s very important that you don’t attempt to diagnose yourself. Make an appointment with your doctor to get evaluated.
Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. They will likely order tests that will rule out other conditions. Common tests include:
According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, normal blood pH levels are between 7.35 and 7.45. A blood pH above 7.45 may indicate alkalosis.
Your doctor may also want to measure the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in your blood to rule out respiratory issues.
Your treatment plan will depend on the cause of your alkalosis.
Your carbon dioxide level needs to return to normal if you have respiratory alkalosis. If you have rapid breathing caused by anxiety, taking slow, deep breaths can often improve symptoms and regulate your oxygen level. If tests reveal that you have a low oxygen level, you’ll need to receive oxygen through a mask.
If your rapid breathing is caused by pain, then treating the pain will help bring your respiratory rate back to normal and improve your symptoms.
If your alkalosis is caused by a loss of chemicals such as chloride or potassium, you’ll be prescribed medications or supplements to replace these chemicals.
Some cases of alkalosis result from an electrolyte imbalance, which may be corrected by drinking plenty of fluids or drinks that contain electrolytes. If you have an advanced case of electrolyte imbalance, it will need to be treated in the hospital.
Most people recover from alkalosis once they receive treatment.
How do I prevent alkalosis?
Reduce your risk for developing alkalosis by maintaining good health, eating a healthy diet, and staying hydrated. Choosing foods high in nutrients and potassium can help combat electrolyte deficiencies. Nutrients and potassium are primarily found in fruits and vegetables, as well as some other foods, such as:
Steps you can take to prevent dehydration include:
- drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water per day
- drinking water before, during, and after exercise
- using electrolyte-replacement drinks for high-intensity exercises
- avoiding sodas or juices, which have a high sugar content and can make dehydration worse
- limiting caffeine, which is found in soda, tea, and coffee
It’s important to remember that you’re already dehydrated if you feel thirsty.
Dehydration can also occur rapidly if you lose a lot of electrolytes. This can happen when you’re vomiting from the flu. If you cannot keep potassium-rich foods in your stomach, make sure you still drink adequate fluids, such as water, sports drinks, and broth-based soups.
The outlook for alkalosis largely depends on how quickly it’s diagnosed. The sooner your condition is treated, the better the outcome is for that condition. Alkalosis caused by existing kidney conditions may not be preventable. It’s also important to follow all of your doctor’s care instructions once you get a diagnosis.