(Last updated 11/23/2016; last reviewed 11/23/2016)
Lactic acidosis is a condition caused by the buildup of lactic acid in the blood. The condition is a rare but serious side effect of some HIV medicines.
HIV medicines in the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) drug class can cause the body to produce too much lactic acid. NRTIs can also damage the liver so that it can’t break down lactate in the blood.
If you are taking NRTIs, it’s important to know about lactic acidosis. Although lactic acidosis is a rare side effect of NRTIs, the condition can be life-threatening.
In addition to use of some HIV medicines, risk factors for lactic acidosis include the following:
Lactic acidosis often develops gradually. Early signs of lactic acidosis can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, and weight loss. These symptoms may not seem serious, but they can be the first signs of life-threatening lactic acidosis. If you are taking HIV medicines, always tell your health care provider about any symptoms that you are having—even symptoms that may not seem serious.
Lactic acidosis can advance rapidly. Signs of dangerously high levels of lactate in blood include:
If you are taking HIV medicines and have any of these symptoms, get medical help immediately.
Tests used to diagnose lactic acidosis include:
An HIV medicine that is causing lactic acidosis should be discontinued. However, stopping an HIV medicine because of lactic acidosis doesn’t mean stopping HIV treatment. There are many HIV medicines that can be included in an HIV regimen.
But if you are taking HIV medicines, do NOT cut down on, skip, or stop taking your medicines unless your health care provider tells you to.
In the rare cases when lactic acidosis becomes life-threatening, immediate treatment in a hospital is necessary.