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Ann Fr Anesth Reanim. 2006 Oct;25(10):1046-52. Epub 2006 Sep 26.

[Metformin-associated lactic acidosis].

[Article in French]

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  • 1Service de réanimation médicochirurgicale, département d'anesthésie-réanimation Est, hôpital Saint-Roch, 5 rue Pierre-Dévoluy, CHU de Nice, 06006 Nice cedex, France.



The aims of this review are to precise the pathophysiological mechanisms leading to biguanide-associated lactic acidosis, to give elements of diagnosis, and to underline the precautionary conditions for prescribing these drugs by an improvement in physicians and patient's education.


A PubMed database research in English and French language reports published until December 2005. The keywords were: lactic acidosis, metformin, biguanide, diabetes mellitus.


Data in selected articles were reviewed, clinical and basic science research relevant informations were extracted.


Metformin, which is an oral antidiabetic agent, is the only one biguanide available in France. It acts by enhancing the sensitivity to insulin by a decrease in the hepatic glucose production and an increase in its peripheral use. In term of glycemic control, it has the same efficiency than the other hypoglycemic agents. It represents the treatment of choice for overweight type 2 diabetic patients because of its beneficial effects on the weight loss and on the cardiovascular complications. The incidence of metformin-associated lactic acidosis is very low when contra-indications and appropriate rules for prescribing this drug are respected. The relationship between metformin and lactic acidosis remains largely controversial. In practical, we can distinguish three situations which have different prognosis. In the first case, metformin seems to be responsible for lactic acidosis because of self-poisoning or accidental overdose, and prognosis is good. In the second case, the association between metformin and lactic acidosis is coincidental rather than causal, and may be induced by an underlying organ failure. In the last case there is a cause of lactic acidosis which is worsened by a precipitating factor leading to metformin accumulation. The 2 latter situations are very severe as mortality rate is about 50%. Symptomatic treatments and renal replacement therapy which allows metformin removal are the curative treatment. Prevention is essential. It requires the respect of metformin contraindications and a better education of physicians and patients for a safe prescription.


Due to its beneficial effects, metformin is the gold standard treatment for overweight type 2 diabetic patients. The essential precautionary conditions for prescribing metformin as well as the respect of its contra-indications permit largely to prevent lactic acidosis. This complication is serious when it is associated with intercurrent illnesses and metformin accumulation. The curative treatment is based on renal replacement therapy. Prevention only rests on the respect of the contra-indications. Education of physicians and patients concerning the rules of prescription remains essential.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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