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Blood gas analysis in the critically ill 

Blood gas analysis in the critically ill
Blood gas analysis in the critically ill

Gavin M. Joynt

and Gordon Y. S. Choi

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date: 20 February 2020

Arterial blood gases allow the assessment of patient oxygenation, ventilation, and acid-base status. Blood gas machines directly measure pH, and the partial pressures of carbon dioxide (PaCO2) and oxygen (PaO2) dissolved in arterial blood. Oxygenation is assessed by measuring PaO2 and arterial blood oxygen saturation (SaO2) in the context of the inspired oxygen and haemoglobin concentration, and the oxyhaemoglobin dissociation curve. Causes of arterial hypoxaemia may often be elucidated by determining the alveolar–arterial oxygen gradient. Ventilation is assessed by measuring the PaCO2 in the context of systemic acid-base balance. A rise in PaCO2 indicates alveolar hypoventilation, while a decrease indicates alveolar hyperventilation. Given the requirement to maintain a normal pH, functioning homeostatic mechanisms result in metabolic acidosis, triggering a compensatory hyperventilation, while metabolic alkalosis triggers a compensatory reduction in ventilation. Similarly, when primary alveolar hypoventilation generates a respiratory acidosis, it results in a compensatory increase in serum bicarbonate that is achieved in part by kidney bicarbonate retention. In the same way, respiratory alkalosis induces kidney bicarbonate loss. Acid-base assessment requires the integration of clinical findings and a systematic interpretation of arterial blood gas parameters. In clinical use, traditional acid-base interpretation rules based on the bicarbonate buffer system or standard base excess estimations and the interpretation of the anion gap, are substantially equivalent to the physicochemical method of Stewart, and are generally easier to use at the bedside. The Stewart method may have advantages in accurately explaining certain physiological and pathological acid base problems.

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