A Review of Bicarbonate Use in Common Clinical Scenarios

J Emerg Med. 2023 Aug;65(2):e71-e80. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2023.04.012. Epub 2023 Apr 21.


Background: The use of sodium bicarbonate to treat metabolic acidosis is intuitive, yet data suggest that not all patients benefit from this therapy.

Objective: In this narrative review, we describe the physiology behind commonly encountered nontoxicologic causes of metabolic acidosis, highlight potential harm from the indiscriminate administration of sodium bicarbonate in certain scenarios, and provide evidence-based recommendations to assist emergency physicians in the rational use of sodium bicarbonate.

Discussion: Sodium bicarbonate can be administered as a hypertonic push, as a resuscitation fluid, or as an infusion. Lactic acidosis and cardiac arrest are two common scenarios where there is limited benefit to routine use of sodium bicarbonate, although certain circumstances, such as patients with concomitant acute kidney injury and lactic acidosis may benefit from sodium bicarbonate. Patients with cardiac arrest secondary to sodium channel blockade or hyperkalemia also benefit from sodium bicarbonate therapy. Recent data suggest that the use of sodium bicarbonate in diabetic ketoacidosis does not confer improved patient outcomes and may cause harm in pediatric patients. Available evidence suggests that alkalinization of urine in rhabdomyolysis does not improve patient-centered outcomes. Finally, patients with a nongap acidosis benefit from sodium bicarbonate supplementation.

Conclusions: Empiric use of sodium bicarbonate in patients with nontoxicologic causes of metabolic acidosis is not warranted and likely does not improve patient-centered outcomes, except in select scenarios. Emergency physicians should reserve use of this medication to conditions with clear benefit to patients.

Keywords: cardiac arrest; diabetic ketoacidosis; lactic acidosis; metabolic acidosis; rhabdomyolysis; sodium bicarbonate.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis* / drug therapy
  • Acidosis, Lactic* / etiology
  • Bicarbonates / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Heart Arrest* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Sodium Bicarbonate / pharmacology
  • Sodium Bicarbonate / therapeutic use


  • Bicarbonates
  • Sodium Bicarbonate