A Unique Case of Metformin-associated Severe Lactic Acidosis Without Preexisting Renal Disease: Perspectives on Prolonged Dialysis and Education for Prevention

Cureus. 2020 Apr 6;12(4):e7564. doi: 10.7759/cureus.7564.


Metabolic acidosis is a common disorder defined by an imbalance in the body's acid-base balance. Identifying the cause of acidosis is critical for its management. We describe a case of acute renal failure with lactic acidosis in a 69-year-old man who was taking metformin for type 2 diabetes. The patient presented with decreased urine output after two weeks of intermittent nausea and vomiting. During this time, the patient had continued to take limited fluids and medication, including lisinopril and metformin. Physical exam on initial evaluation was remarkable only for hypertension and minimal abdominal tenderness. However, laboratory tests revealed a severe lactic acidosis and renal failure with hyperkalemia. The patient had normal renal function and a normal urine albumin level three weeks prior. Broad-spectrum antibiotics and sodium bicarbonate were administered, followed by hemodialysis. During hemodialysis, the patient became hemodynamically unstable, requiring vasopressors. Post-dialysis, the lactic acidosis worsened, prompting the initiation of additional prolonged dialysis during the first hospital day. After the second lengthy dialysis, the patient's condition improved significantly and he was discharged on hospital day 12, with the diagnosis of metformin-associated lactic acidosis (MALA) in the setting of acute tubular necrosis from gastrointestinal fluid loss accompanied by the continued use of an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor. After discharge, his renal function returned to normal. Severe lactic acidosis from metformin is relatively rare. Metformin has a large volume of distribution and accumulates in erythrocytes and intestinal cells, resulting in less efficient removal with dialysis and rebound lactic acidosis. Prolonged dialysis may be necessary for MALA to improve outcomes. Identifying metformin levels may help in diagnosis and management. However, the means to Identify metformin levels are not widely available. Patients receiving metformin should be counseled to stop metformin and seek medical care in the setting of illnesses. This is particularly important given the frequency of metformin prescription and the common use of renin-angiotensin system blockade in patients with type 2 diabetes, which increases the risk of kidney dysfunction.

Keywords: acute kidney injury; chronic kidney disease; diabetes; hemodialysis; hypertension; lactic acidosis; mala; metabolic acidosis; metformin.

Publication types

  • Case Reports