Metabolic alkalosis is a widespread acid-base disturbance, especially in hospitalized patients. It is characterized by the primary elevation of serum bicarbonate and arterial pH, along with a compensatory increase in Pco2 consequent to adaptive hypoventilation. The pathogenesis of metabolic alkalosis involves either a loss of fixed acid or a net accumulation of bicarbonate within the extracellular fluid. The loss of acid may be via the gastrointestinal tract or the kidney, whereas the sources of excess alkali may be via oral or parenteral alkali intake. Severe metabolic alkalosis in critically ill patients-arterial blood pH of 7.55 or higher-is associated with significantly increased mortality rate. The kidney is equipped with sophisticated mechanisms to avert the generation or the persistence (maintenance) of metabolic alkalosis by enhancing bicarbonate excretion. These mechanisms include increased filtration as well as decreased absorption and enhanced secretion of bicarbonate by specialized transporters in specific nephron segments. Factors that interfere with these mechanisms will impair the ability of the kidney to eliminate excess bicarbonate, therefore promoting the generation or impairing the correction of metabolic alkalosis. These factors include volume contraction, low glomerular filtration rate, potassium deficiency, hypochloremia, aldosterone excess, and elevated arterial carbon dioxide. Major clinical states are associated with metabolic alkalosis, including vomiting, aldosterone or cortisol excess, licorice ingestion, chloruretic diuretics, excess calcium alkali ingestion, and genetic diseases such as Bartter syndrome, Gitelman syndrome, and cystic fibrosis. In this installment in the AJKD Core Curriculum in Nephrology, we will review the pathogenesis of metabolic alkalosis; appraise the precipitating events; and discuss clinical presentations, diagnoses, and treatments of metabolic alkalosis.
Keywords: Acid-base homeostasis; bicarbonate; calcium-alkali syndrome; cystic fibrosis; extracellular fluid volume contraction; hypercalcemia; hypokalemia; kidney tubules; metabolic alkalosis; review.
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