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This electrolyte is an important component of the equation that keeps the acid-base status of the body in balance.
Water + Carbon Dioxide = Bicarbonate + Hydrogen
The lungs regulate the amount of carbon dioxide, and the kidneys regulate bicarbonate (HCO3). This electrolyte helps buffer the acids that build up in the body as normal byproducts of metabolism. For example, when muscles are working, they produce lactic acid as a byproduct of energy formation. HCO3 is required to be available to bind the hydrogen released from the acid to form carbon dioxide and water. When the body malfunctions, too much acid may also be produced (for example, diabetic ketoacidosis, renal tubular acidosis) and HCO3 is needed to try to compensate for the extra acid production.
Measuring the amount of bicarbonate in the blood stream can help the health care practitioner decide how severe the acid-base balance of the body has become.
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