Pulmonary gas pressures

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

Following is a list of average partial pressures (in torr) for a human at rest:

Location pO2
(Torr)
pCO2
(Torr)
Outside air - dry air at sea level 160 0.3
Alveolar air 105 40
Arteriole blood 100 40
Venous blood 40 50
Cells << 40 50

Factors affecting alveolar gas pressures

The alveolar oxygen pressure is lower than the atmospheric O2 partial pressure for two reasons.

  • Firstly, as the air enters the lungs, it is humidified by the upper airway and thus the partial pressure of water vapour (47 mmHg) reduces the oxygen partial pressure to about 150 mmHg.
  • The rest of the difference is due to the continual uptake of oxygen by the pulmonary capillaries, and the continual diffusion of CO2 out of the capillaries into the alveoli.

The factors that determine the values for alveolar PO2 and PCO2 are:

  • The pressure of outside air
  • The partial pressures of inspired oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • The rates of total body oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production
  • The rates of alveolar ventilation and perfusion

The alveolar pO2 is not routinely measured but is calculated from blood gas measurements by the Alveolar gas equation.

Pathology

Hypoventilation exists when the ratio of carbon dioxide production to alveolar ventilation increases above normal values.

Hyperventilation exists when the same ratio decreases.

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