Acid-Base Imbalances Made Easy

Acid-Base Imbalances Made Easy with Picmonic

Acid-Base Imbalances Made Easy

We value your time, which is why we made lab values easier than ever to understand with Picmonic’s pathway for acid-base imbalances!

We value your time, which is why we made lab values easier than ever to understand with Picmonic’s learning pathway for acid-base imbalances!

How do I learn and remember the Acid-Base imbalances as a Nursing Student? 
Picmonic has a super-easy nursing acid-base imbalances visual study guide that will help you soak in all the acid-base information you need in a way that you will never forget. We worked hard to make sure this study aid is simple to understand and fun, utilizing the concept of picture-mnemonics and memory palaces, ie turning it into a memorable Picmonic.

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First, sign up for Picmonic and watch our mnemonics for nursing students and we promise you’ll be impressed.

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Second, read this article to learn the basics of how to interpret acid-base imbalances in 3 steps.

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Third, test your knowledge afterward with Picmonic’s quizzes!

Did you already learn the nursing Picmonics? Make sure you do BEFORE reading below ;)

Now, watch Dr. Kendall Wyatt, MD, RN, EMTP, teach the basics of how to interpret Acid-Base Imbalances.

Next, read and learn the basics of how to interpret acid-base imbalances in these 3 steps*

1. Memorize the normal lab values

pH Scale: Is it an Acid or Base?

pH: 7.35-7.45
pCO2: 35-45 mmHg
HCO3: 22-26 mmHg

Helpful Hint: Look at the numbers .35 and .45 in the pH levels. Looks pretty similar to the lab values of 35-45 in pCO2, right? You’ve already got two lab values memorized right there!

When you have those lab values memorized, it’s easy to recognize what is abnormal. Now, if a patient’s pH falls below 7.35, they are in a state of acidosis (remember the acidic-lemon?). If the patient’s pH is above 7.45, the patient would be in a state of alkalosis (the elk-loser).

2. Figure out what kind of acidosis or alkalosis our patient is in: respiratory or metabolic?

Here, we first look at the partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2) in the blood. CO2 is acidic in the body and is regulated through respiration. Think: Breathing. We blow off CO2 with every breath.

A good little trick here is to look at the pH and see what direction it’s going (up or down), and then look at the CO2 and see what direction that’s going. If they are going in the opposite direction, then we have ourselves a patient with a respiratory disorder.

alkalosis character


That’s where you take part one (acidosis or alkalosis) and match it here with respiratory (respiratory acidosis or respiratory alkalosis), and voila! You’ve solved yourself an acid-base problem, my friend. There’s more information about this in Picmonic’s colorful nursing acid-base imbalances illustrated study aid, but these are the basics.

Now, if you’re saying, “Wait, the pH and the pCO2 are not going in opposite directions!” Then have no fear, you move on to step three.

3. Check the bicarbonate (HCO3) level.

bicarbonate (HCO3) level

Step three is to check the bicarbonate (HCO3) level. The normal range for HCO3 levels is 22-26 mmHg, and this is regulated by the kidneys. Because of this, it is slow to react and can take up to 24 hours to begin compensating, whereas the respiratory system can respond in minutes.

If the HCO3 is going in the same direction as the pH, then we most likely have ourselves a metabolic problem.

How do we know which disorder it is?

How do we know which disorder it is?

You can deep dive into this topic with Picmonic’s nursing acid-base imbalances online study guide, but we also have another little trick: if the patient is in a state of metabolic acidosis, then everything is going down, down, down. This means decreased pH, decreased pCO2 and decreased HCO3.

metabolic alkalosis

On the contrary, if the patient is in a state of metabolic alkalosis, then everything is going up, up, up. That means increased pH, increased pCO2, increased HCO3. It’s a cinch, right

We hope so. If this is still tricky for you, be sure to check out our comprehensive nursing acid-base imbalances online study guide. It’s a visual mnemonics study aid that will help you retain 331% more knowledge than simply reading a textbook. (yes, 331% is per an IRB approved study published in PubMed)

331% more knowledge than simply reading a textbook

Seriously. It’ll be like if your grades are in a state of metabolic alkalosis, the test score numbers will keep going up! …See what we did there?

If you’re already a whiz and are asking yourself about compensation mechanisms then you’ll have no problem adding those concepts right onto this fundamental base of knowledge. And if you’re not totally sure what compensation mechanisms are, may we introduce you to our nursing acid-base imbalances visual study guide? It’s super helpful and will get you up-to-speed in no time so you’ll really get those concepts burned into your brain! But like, burned in a good way.

Although side-note, when you’re done fully understanding how to Interpret Acid-Base Disorders, with a Picmonic Free account you can start learning the more detailed Picmonic’s on acid-base imbalances! After learning these Picmonics in less than an hour, test your knowledge!



After that, there’s a whole nursing burns visual study aid too, if/when you need it. ;)

Happy studying!
Kendall Wyatt, MD, RN, EMTP

Marlee Liberman

Marlee Liberman, RN, Master Nursing Scholar

As a registered nurse, Marlee understands the struggles that nursing school throws at you – not to mention the overwhelming pressure preparing for the NCLEX®! Marlee brings a unique skill set and perspective to Picmonic with her previous degree in broadcast journalism, her creativity in video production, and her wandering nomad lifestyle. Her blend of talents provides her with the knack for simplifying complicated concepts and demystifying the world of nursing.

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