Treatment of severe metformin-associated lactic acidosis with renal replacement therapy and tris-hydroxymethyl aminomethane: a case report

Author Department

Medicine; Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine; Nephrology

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Background: Type B lactic acidosis is a rare but serious side effect of metformin use. The risk of metformin-associated lactic acidosis is elevated in renal or liver impairment, heart failure and in metformin overdose. Metformin-associated lactic acidosis is treated with renal replacement therapy although this can be limited by metformin's large volume of distribution and a patient's hemodynamic instability. Tris-hydroxymethyl aminomethane is a buffer that rapidly equilibrates in liver cells and increases the intracellular pH of hepatocytes. Intracellular alkalosis increases lactate uptake by the liver and can promote gluconeogenesis which results in increased lactate metabolism and decreased lactate production. Unlike intravenous bicarbonate which can worsen acidosis due to carbon dioxide retention and hypocalcemia, tris-hydroxymethyl aminomethane does not generate large amounts of carbon dioxide and can improve cardiac contractility in experimental models.

Case presentation: We present a case of a 43-year-old African American male who intentionally ingested 480,000 g of metformin. He developed severe metformin-associated lactic acidosis that was refractory to 21 hours of high flux hemodialysis. This was followed by an additional 12 hours of high flux hemodialysis augmented by continuous intravenous infusion of tris-hydroxymethyl aminomethane. After initiating tris-hydroxymethyl aminomethane, the patient had rapid reversal of lactic acidosis and was weaned off vasopressors and mechanical ventilation.

Conclusions: While metformin-associated lactic acidosis can be treated with renal replacement therapy, severe cases of lactic acidosis may not be amenable to renal replacement therapy alone. Through its unique buffer mechanisms, tris-hydroxymethyl aminomethane can be used in conjunction with dialysis to rapidly improve acidosis associated with metformin.

Keywords: Metformin-associated lactic acidosis; Renal replacement therapy; Tris-hydroxymethyl aminomethane; Type B lactic acidosis.