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What High Lactic Acid Levels Mean For Your Health

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

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High lactic acid isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. However, if the symptoms persist and worsen even with rest, hydration, and other natural remedies, it’s high time to seek medical intervention. High levels of lactic acid in the muscle and blood can result in life-threatening consequences due to the potential severity of its underlying cause. Learn what elevated lactic acid means, its causes, and when to see your doctor. 

What Is Lactic Acid? 

Lactic acid or lactate is a natural product of anaerobic metabolism, an energy production process that doesn’t require oxygen. If the body has less oxygen, cells take this metabolic pathway to ensure that organs, specifically the muscles and blood, continue to match the increased demand for function. 

Keep in mind that lactic acid production is an organic product, making it a crucial part of the process by default. However, too much lactate can cause health problems if not immediately regulated. 

Meaning of High Lactic Acid Levels

If you have elevated lactic acid, it may indicate underlying health conditions or imbalances in your body. However, in most cases, it’s attributed to too much exercise or workout, which is expected to dissipate within hours to a few days. 

High lactic acid levels, also known as hyperlactatemia, can be defined as the accumulation of lactic acid concentrations above the normal range, typically exceeding four mmol/L. This figure is shown in your lactic acid blood test and is often linked to lactic acidosis or increased lactic acid concentration in the bloodstream. 

Aside from the blood test, verifying symptoms of lactic acid buildup can help in speeding up diagnosis. These symptoms commonly include the following:

  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue 
  • Weakness
  • Nausea 
  • Abdominal pain

In cases of severe lactic acidosis, individuals may even experience trouble breathing, confusion, and loss of consciousness. These conditions warrant an emergency trip to the hospital. 

Causes of Elevated Lactic Acid

Under normal circumstances, the body constantly produces and clears lactic acid. The liver plays a critical role in this process by converting lactic acid back into glucose through several biochemical reactions. That said, the causes of high lactic acid can range from temporary activities to underlying severe health problems. 

Vigorous exercise

One of the most common causes is intense exercise or physical activity. During strenuous exercises(1), the muscles may produce lactic acid faster than the body can clear, leading to a buildup. This is typically temporary, resolving once the exercise is stopped.

It is generally believed that lactic acid accumulation contributes to the soreness you experience after exercising or working out too much. However, this was debunked by multiple studies, highlighting that the delayed onset of muscle soreness(2) is not directly due to lactate buildup. Instead, it’s linked to numerous factors, including disruption in the neural pathway. 

High-intensity workouts and bodybuilding require careful planning as they can also come with health risks. Check out our guides on how to medically prepare yourself for these activities.Is Bodybuilding Healthy or Dangerous?What Blood Tests Should Bodybuilders Take?

Medical condition 

Medical conditions like sepsis, liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer can cause lactic acid buildup. However, it’s important to note that it is only one of the various symptoms for each condition. Thus, the buildup itself is non-conclusive as far as diagnosis goes.  

  • Sepsis occurs as a result of an infection. It triggers several immune reactions that could jeopardize your organ functions. According to research, sepsis triggers high lactic acid levels in the blood due to the shortage of oxygen(3).
  • Liver and kidney diseases can both cause an increase in lactic acid levels. When the liver is damaged, such as in chronic liver disease(4), it cannot break down lactic acid. On the other hand, when the kidneys are not functioning properly, they cannot eliminate lactate, leaving it in high levels in the blood.
  • Cancer, particularly progressive tumors(5), can also cause high lactic acid levels by disrupting normal tissue function and metabolism in organs involved in lactic acid metabolism.


Some medications, like metformin for treating type 2 diabetes, can increase the risk of lactic acidosis, especially in individuals with kidney or liver disease. It is, however, a rare complication(6), especially among those without other metabolic conditions than diabetes.

In addition, certain antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV(7) can also increase the risk of lactic acidosis. These medications may interfere with lactic acid metabolism, resulting in lactate elevation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is high lactic acid an emergency?

Lactic acid buildup is part of your body’s natural response to strenuous activity and oftentimes comes as temporary. Therefore, in this case, it does not require an urgent medical intervention. 

However, if the lactic acid elevation is rapid and the accompanying symptoms quickly worsen over a short period of time, go to the emergency room immediately. High lactic acid can sometimes be associated with sepsis, which is life-threatening. 

What foods can get rid of lactic acid?

Foods rich in magnesium, like dark chocolate, legumes, seeds, nuts, and fatty fish, can help reduce extra lactic acid in your blood. This is because magnesium neutralizes lactic acid. In addition, make sure to drink plenty of water to help excrete the excessive lactic acid faster. 

How do you treat high lactic acid in your blood?

The treatment of high lactic acid levels in the bloodstream varies depending on the root cause of the problem. If the issue is due to sepsis, your healthcare provider will prioritize treating the underlying infection as soon and as effectively as possible to prevent any fatal consequences. This may involve administering supplementary oxygen and medications through intravenous fluids.

The Bottom Line

High lactic acid levels can be concerning, but they aren’t always a medical emergency. To respond appropriately, understand the cause, evaluate symptoms, and consult a healthcare professional. Identifying the issue and implementing suitable treatment will help individuals effectively manage their condition.


1 Sahlin K. Muscle fatigue and lactic acid accumulation. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl. 1986;556:83-91. PMID: 3471061.

2 Sonkodi B. Should We Void Lactate in the Pathophysiology of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness? Not So Fast! Let’s See a Neurocentric View! Metabolites. 2022 Sep 13;12(9):857. doi: 10.3390/metabo12090857. PMID: 36144262; PMCID: PMC9505902.

3 Suetrong B, Walley KR. Lactic Acidosis in Sepsis: It’s Not All Anaerobic: Implications for Diagnosis and Management. Chest. 2016 Jan;149(1):252-61. doi: 10.1378/chest.15-1703. Epub 2016 Jan 6. PMID: 26378980.

4 Jeppesen JB, Mortensen C, Bendtsen F, Møller S. Lactate metabolism in chronic liver disease. Scand J Clin Lab Invest. 2013;73(4):293-9. doi: 10.3109/00365513.2013.773591. Epub 2013 Mar 20. PMID: 23514017.

5 Hayes C, Donohoe CL, Davern M, Donlon NE. The oncogenic and clinical implications of lactate induced immunosuppression in the tumour microenvironment. Cancer Lett. 2021 Mar 1;500:75-86. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2020.12.021. Epub 2020 Dec 23. PMID: 33347908.

6 Dyatlova N, Tobarran NV, Kannan L, North R, Wills BK. Metformin-Associated Lactic Acidosis (MALA). 2023 Apr 17. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–. PMID: 35593810.
7 Shaer AJ, Rastegar A. Lactic acidosis in the setting of antiretroviral therapy for the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. A case report and review of the literature. Am J Nephrol. 2000 Jul-Aug;20(4):332-8. doi: 10.1159/000013610. PMID: 10970989.

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