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Control of ventilation

Douglas C Johnson, MD
Section Editors
Kevin R Flaherty, MD, MS
Scott Manaker, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Geraldine Finlay, MD


The respiratory system is dependent upon adequate ventilation to supply oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, and help maintain acid-base homeostasis. Ventilation responds to changes in the arterial carbon dioxide tension (PaCO2), arterial oxygen tension (PaO2), and pH (figure 1), and may be modified in response to a number of mechanical and irritant stimuli arising from various structures within the thoracic cage, and probably from within muscles and joints during exercise.

Broadly viewed, the respiratory control mechanisms respond to input from neural and chemical receptors. Respiratory centers in the brain integrate these inputs and provide neuronal drive to the respiratory muscles, which maintain upper airway patency and drive the thoracic bellows to determine the level of ventilation [1,2].

The physiologic aspects of the control of ventilation and the evaluation of patients with disorders of ventilation will be reviewed here. The deleterious effects of various disease states on the control of ventilation are discussed separately. (See "Disorders of ventilatory control".)


Several different neural receptors are present in the upper airways, trachea, lungs, chest wall, and pulmonary vessels [3].

Slowly adapting pulmonary stretch receptors and muscle spindles respond primarily to changes in lung volume.


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Nov 19, 2015.
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