Acid loading test (pH)

Definition
This is a test to measure the ability of the renal (kidney) tubules to acidify urine in the presence of increased plasma acidity. See also urine pH.

How the test is performed

There are several ways to perform this test. A typical procedure is described below, but make sure that you follow the specific instructions that you are given. A urine sample and a blood sample are needed to perform this test. The laboratory analyzes the samples for acid.

Urine sample collection:
Collect a “clean-catch” (midstream) urine sample. To obtain a clean-catch sample, men or boys should wipe clean the head of the penis. Women or girls need to wash the area between the lips of the vagina with soapy water and rinse well. As you start to urinate, allow a small amount to fall into the toilet bowl (this clears the urethra of contaminants). Then, in a clean container, catch about 1 to 2 ounces of urine and remove the container from the urine stream. Give the container to the health care provider or assistant.

For an infant, thoroughly wash the area around the urethra. Open a Urine collection bag (a plastic bag with an adhesive paper on one end), and place it on your infant. For males, the entire penis can be placed in the bag and the adhesive attached to the skin. For females, the bag is placed over the labia. Place a diaper over the infant (bag and all).

Check your baby frequently and remove the bag after the infant has urinated into it. For active infants, this procedure may take a couple of attempts - lively infants can displace the bag, causing an inability to obtain the specimen. The urine is drained into a container for transport back to the health care provider.

Blood sample collection:
Blood is drawn from a vein on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The puncture site is cleaned with antiseptic, and an elastic band is placed around the upper arm to apply pressure and restrict blood flow through the vein. This causes veins below the band to fill with blood.

A needle is inserted into the vein, and the blood is collected in an air-tight vial or a syringe. During the procedure, the band is removed to restore circulation. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

For an infant or young child, the area is cleansed with antiseptic and punctured with a sharp needle or a lancet. The blood may be collected in a pipette (small glass tube), on a slide, onto a test strip, or into a small container. Cotton or a bandage may be applied to the puncture site if there is any continued bleeding.

How to prepare for the test
Take ammonium chloride capsules orally for 3 days prior to the test. Then a sample of urine and blood are taken (see above). The blood sample is necessary to prove that the ammonium chloride had the desired effect of making the blood slightly acidic.

How the test will feel
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed
The test checks the ability of the kidneys to regulate acid-base status.

Normal Values
Strongly acidic urine of less than pH 6 is normal. The urine should be strongly acidic, if renal tubular acidosis is not present.

What abnormal results mean
The most common disorder associated with abnormal results is renal tubular acidosis.

What the risks are
There are no risks in providing the urine sample.

The risks of having blood drawn include:

     
  • excessive bleeding  
  • fainting or feeling light-headed  
  • hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)  
  • infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)  
  • multiple punctures to locate veins

Special considerations
Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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