Background/aims: Hyperlactatemia with unexplained absence of metabolic acidosis is observed in acute liver failure. In chronic liver disease offsetting metabolic acid-base disorders could be revealed by means of physical-chemical acid-base analysis. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the acidifying effect of lactate is neutralized by the alkalinizing effect of hypoalbuminemia in acute liver failure.
Methods: Serial arterial blood samples of 46 consecutive patients with non-paracetamol-induced acute liver failure were studied after admission to a medical ICU in a prospective investigation and compared to healthy controls. Acid-base state was assessed by quantitative physical-chemical analysis.
Results: Lactate was increased and albumin was decreased in patients with acute liver failure compared to healthy controls resulting in normal net metabolic acid-base state. The alkalinizing effect of hypoalbuminemia was neutralized by the acidifying effect of elevated lactate. This observation was confirmed in serial analysis during 5 days after admission.
Conclusions: The acidifying effect of lactate is neutralized by the alkalinizing effect of hypoalbuminemia in non-paracetamol-induced acute liver failure. The absence of apparent metabolic acidosis in the presence of elevated lactate can be explained by means of the physical-chemical acid-base model.