[Respiration][Circulation] Blood Flow to the Lung – General and Pulmonary Vascular Resistance

September 11, 2016 Cardiology, Critical Care, Hemodynamics, Mechanical Ventilation, Physiology and Pathophysiology, Pulmonary Medicine, Respirology No comments , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The lung receives blood flow via both the bronchial circulation and the pulmonary circulation. Bronchial blood flow constitutes a very small portion of the output of the left ventricle and supplies part of the tracheobronchial tree with systemic arterial blood. Pulmonary blood flow (PBF) constitutes the entire output of the right venticle and supplies the lung with the mixed venous blood draining all the tissues of the body.

There is about 250 to 300 mL of blood per square meter of body surface area in the pulmonary circulation. About 60 to 70 mL/m2 of this blood is located in the pulmonary capillaries.

Gas exchange starts to take place in smaller pulmonary arterial vessels, which are not truly capillaries by histologic standards. These arterial segments and successive capillaries may be thought of as functional pulmonary capillaries.

About 280 billion pulmonary capillaries supply approximately 300 million alveoli, resulting in a potential surface area for gas exchange estimated to be 50 to 100 m2.

Bronchial Circulation

The bronchial arteries arise variably, either directly from the aorta or from the intercostal arteries. They supply arterial blood to the tracheobronchial tree and to other structures of the lung down to the level of the terminal bronchioles. They also provide blood flow to the hilar lymph nodes, visceral pleura, pulmoonary arteries and veins, vagus, and esophagus. The bronchial circulation may be important in the "air-conditioning" of inspired air. The blood flow in the bronchial circulation constitutes about 2% of left ventricle output of the left ventricle. Blood pressure in the bronchial arteries is the same as that in other systemic arteries.

The venous drainage of the bronchial circulation is unusual. Although some of the bronchial venous blood enters the azygos and hemiazygos veins, a substantial portion of bronchial venous blood enters the pulmonary veins. Therefore, the bronchial venous blood entering the pulmonary venous blood is part of the normal anatomic right-to-left shunt. Histologists have also identified anastomoses, or connections, between some bronchial capillaries and pulmonary capillaries and between bronchial arteries and branches of the pulmonary artery. Thse connections probably play little role in a healthy person but may open in pathologic states, such as when either bronchial or PBF to a protion of lung is occluded. For example, if PBF to an area of the lung is blocked by a pulmonary embolus, bronchial blood flow to that area increases.

Pulmonary Circuation

The pulmonary vessels offer much less resistance to blood flow than do the systemic arterial tree. They are also much more distensible than systemic arterial vessels. These factors lead to much lower intravascular pressures than those found in the systemic arteries, which makes them more compressible. The pulmonary vessels are located in the thorax and are subject to alveolar and intrapleural pressures that can change greatly. Therefore, factors other than the tone of the pulmonary vascular smooth muscle may have profound effects on pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR). The transmural pressure difference across vessel walls is therefore a major determinant of PVR.

Because the right and left circulations are in series, the outputs of the right and left venticles must be approximately equal to each other over the long run. If the 2 outputs are the same and the measured pressure drops across the systemic circulation and the pulmonary circulation are bout 98 and 10 mm Hg, respectively, then the PVR must be about one tenth that of the systemic vascular resistance (SVR). Again, the low resistance to blood flow offered by the pulmonary circulation is due to the structural aspects of the pulmonary circulation.

The resistance is fairly evenly distributed among the pulmonary arteries, the pulmonary capillaries, and the pulmonary veins (from 15 mm Hg to 12 mm Hg, from 12 mm Hg to 8 mm Hg, from 8 mm Hg to 5 mm Hg, respectively). At rest, about one third of the resistance (PVR) is located in the pulmonary arteries, about one third is located in the pulmonary capillaries, and about one third is located in the pulmonary veins.


screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-3-44-33-pmThe relative small amounts of vascular smooth muscle, low intravascular pressures, and high distensibility of the pulmonary circulation lead to a much greater importance of extravascular effects ("passive factors") on PVR. Gravity, body position, lung volume, alveolar and intrapleural pressures, intravascular pressures, and right ventricular output all can have profound effects on PVR without any alteration in the tone of the pulmonary vascular smooth muscle.

Transmural Pressure On PVR

For distensible-compressible vessels, the transmural pressure difference is an important determinant of the vessel diameter. As the transmural pressure difference (which is equal to pressure inside minus pressure outside) increases, the vessel diameter increases and resistance falls; as the transmural pressure difference decreases, the vessel diameter decreases and the resistance increases. Negative transmural pressure differences lead to compression or even collapse of the vessel.

Lung Volume on PVR

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 12.48.46 PMTwo different groups of pulmonary vessels must be considered when the effects of changes in lung volume on PVR are analyzed: those vessels that are exposed to the mechanical influences of the alveoli and the larger vessels that are not – the alveolar and extraalevolar vessels.

As lung volume increases during a normal negative-pressure inspiration, the alveoli increase in volume. While he alveoli expand, the vessels found between them, mainly pulmonary capillaries, are elongated. As these vessels are stretched, their diameters decrease, just as stretching a rubber tube causes its diameter to narrow. Resistance to blood flow through the alveolar vessels increases as the alveoli expand because the alveolar vessels are longer (resistance is directly proportional to length) and because their radii are smaller (resistance is inversely proportional to radius to the fourth power). At high lung volumes, then, the resistance to blood flow offered by the alveolar vessels increases greatly; at low lung volumes, the resistance to blood flow offered by the alveolar vessels decreases.

One group of the extraalveolar vessels, the larger arteries and veins, is exposed to the intrapleural pressure. As lung volume is increased by making the intrapleural pressure more negative, the transmural pressure difference of the larger arteries and veins increase and they distend. Another factor tending to decrease the resistance to blood flow offered by the extraalveolar vessels at higher lung volumes is radial traction by the connective tissue and alveolar septa holding the larger vessels in place in the lung. Thus, at high lung volumes, the resistance to blood flow offered by the extraalveolar vessels decreases. During a forced expiration to low lung volumes, however, intrapleural pressure becomes very positive. Extraalveolar vessels are compressed, and as the alveoli decrease in size, they exert less radial traction on the extraalveolar vessels. The resistance to blood flow offered by the extraalveolar vessels increase greatly.

Because the alveolar and extraalveolar vessels may be thought of a 2 groups of resistances in series with each other, the resistances of the alveolar and extraalveolar vessels are additive at any lung volume. Thus, the effect of changes in lung volume on the total PVR gives the U-shape cruve. PVR is lowest near the functional residual capacity and increases at both high and low lung volumes.

There is another type of extraalveolar vessel called corner vessel, or extraalveolar capillary. Although these vessels are found between alveoli, their locations at junctions of alveolar septa give them different mechanical properties. Expansion of the alveoli during inspiration increases the wall tension of the alveolar septa, and the corner vessels are distended by increased radial traction, whereas the alveolar capillaries are compressed.

Also note that during mechanical positive-pressure ventilation, alveolar pressure (PA) and intrapleural pressure are positive during inspiration. In this case, and the resistance to blood flow offered by both alveolar and extraalveolar vessels increases during lung inflation. This is especially a problem during mechanical positive-pressure ventilation with positve end-expiratory pressure (PEEP). During PEEP, airway pressure (and thus alveolar pressure) is kept positive at end expiratory to help prevent atelectasis. In this situation, alveolar pressure and intrapleural pressure are positive during both inspiration and expriation. PVR is elevated in both alveolar and extraalveolar vessels throughout the respiratory cycle. In addition, because intrapleural pressure is always positive, the other intrathoracic blood vessels are subjected to decreased transmural pressure differences; the venae cavae, which have low intravascular pressure, are also compressed. If cardiovascular reflexes are unable to adjust to this situation, cardiac output may fall precipitously because of decreased venous return (for the reason see thread "Effects of Pressure Outside the Heart on Cardiac Output" at http://www.tomhsiung.com/wordpress/2016/09/effects-of-pressure-outside-the-heart-on-cardiac-output/) and high PVR.

Recruitment and Distention

During exercise, cardiac output can increase several-fold without a correspondingly great increase in MPAP. Although the MPAP does increase, the increase is only a few millimeters of mercury, even if cardiac output has doubled or tripled. Since the pressure drop across the pulmonary circulation is proportional to the cardiac output times the PVR, this must indicate a decrease in PVR.

Like the effects of lung volume on PVR, this decrease appears to be passive – that is, it is not a result of changes in the tone of pulmonary vascular smooth muscle caused by neural mechanisms or humoral agents. In fact, a fall in PVR in response to increased blood flow or even an increase perfusion pressure can be demonstrated in a vascularly isolated perfused lung. There are two different mechanisms that can explain this decrease in PVR in response to elevated blood flow and perfusion pressure: recruitment and distention.


At resting cardiac outputs, not all the pulmonary capillaries are perfused. A substantial proportion of capillaries, perhaps as large as one half to two thirds, is probably not perfused because of hydrostatic effects. Others may be unperfused because they have a relatively high critical opening pressure. That is, these vessels, because of their high vascular smooth muscle tone or other factors such as positive alveolar pressure, require a higher perfusion pressure than that solely necessary to overcome hydrostatic forces. Under normal circumstances, it is not likely that the critical opening pressures for pulmonary blood vessels are very great because they have so little smooth muscle. Increased blood flow increases the MPAP, which opposes hydrostatic forces and exceeds the critical opening pressure in previously unopened vesels. This series of events opens new parallel pathways for blood flow, which lowers the PVR. This opening of new pathways is called recruitment. Note that decreasing the cardiac output or pulmonary artery pressure can result in a derecruitment of pulmonary capillaries.


As perfusion pressure increases, the transmural pressure gradient of the pulmonary blood vessels increases, causing distention of the vessels. This increases their radii and decreases their resistance to blood flow.

Control of Pulmonary Vascular Smooth Muscle

Pulmonary vascular smooth muscle is responsive to both neural and humoral influences. These produce "active" alterations in PVR, as opposed to those "passive" factors discussed in the previous section.

The pulmonary vasculature is innervated by both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers of the autonomic nervous system. The innervation of pulmonary vessels is relatively sparse in comparsion with that of systemic vessels. There is relatively more innervation of the larger vessels and less of the smaller, more muscular vessels. There appears to be no innervation of vessels smaller than 30 um in diameter. There does not appear to be much innervation of intrapulmonary veins and venules.

The effects of stimulation of the sympathetic innervation of the pulmonary vasulature are somewhat controversial. Some investigators have demonstrated an increase in PVR with sympathetic stimulation of the innervation of the pulmonary vasculature, whereas others have shown only a decreased distensibility with no change in calculated PVR. Stimulation of the parasympathetic innervation of the pulmonary vessels generally causes vasodilation, although its physiologic function is not known.

The catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine both increase PVR when injected into the pulmonary circulation. Histamine, found in the lung in mast cells, is a pulmonary vasoconstrictor. Certain prostaglandins and related substances, such as PGF2alpha, PGE2, and thromboxane, are also pulmonary vasoconstrictors, as is endothelin, a 21-amino acid peptide synthesized by the vascular endothelium. Alveolar hypoxia and hypercapnia also cause pulmonary vasoconstriction. Acetylcholine, the beta-adrenergic agonist isoproterenol, nitric oxide (NO), and certain prostaglandins, such as PGE1, and PGI2 (prostacyclin), are pulmonary vasodilators.

Gravity's Impact on PVR

Determinations of the regional distribution of PBF (see discussion below) have shown that gravity is another important "passive" factor affecting local PVR and the relative perfusion of different regions of the lung (see discussion below). The interaction of the effects of gravity and extravascular pressures may have a profound influence on the relative perfusion of different areas of the lung.

The Regional Distribution of Pulmonary Blood Flow

Interaction of Gravity and Extravascular Pressure

Experiments done on excised, perfused, upright animal lungs have demonstrated the same gradient of increased perfusion per unit volume from the top of the lung to the bottom. When the experiments were done at low pump outputs so that the pulmonary artery pressure was low, the uppermost regions of the lung received no blood flow. Perfusion of the lung ceased at the point at which alveolar pressure (PA) was just equal to pulmonary arterial pressure (Pa). Above this point, there was no perfusion because alveolar pressure exceeded pulmonary artery pressure, and so the transmural pressure across capillary walls was negative. Below this point, perfusion per unit volume increased steadily with increased distance down the lung.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-1-51-11-pmThus, under circumstances in which alveolar pressure is greater than pulmonary artery pressure in the upper parts of the lung, no blood flow occurs in that region, and the region is referred to as being in zone 1, as shown in Fingure 4-9. Any zone 1, then, is ventilated but not perfused. It is alveolar dead space. Fortunately, during normal, quiet breathing in a person with a normal cardiac output, pulmonary artery pressure, even in the uppermost regions of the lung, is greater than alveolar pressure, and so there is no zone 1. Some experiments have also demonstrated perfusion of the corner vessels under zone 1 conditions.

The lower portion of the lung in Figure 4-9 is said to be in zone 3. In this region, the pulmonary artery pressure and the pulmonary vein pressure (Pv) are both greater than alveolar pressure. The driving pressure for blood flow through the lung in this region is simply pulmonary artery pressure minus pulmonary vein pressure. Note that this driving pressure stays constant as one moves further down the lung in zone 3 because the hydrostatic pressure effects are the same for both the arteries and the veins.

The middle portion of the lung in Figure 4-9 is in zone 2. In zone 2, pulmonary artery pressure is greater than alveolar pressure, and so blood flow does occur. However, because alveolar pressure is greater than pulmonary vein pressure, the effective driving pressure for blood flow is pulmonary artery pressure minus alveolar pressure in zone 2. Notice that in zone 2 the increase in blood flow per distance down the lung is greater than it is in zone 3. This because the upstream driving pressure, the pulmonary artery pressure, increases according to the hydrostatic pressure increase, but the effective downstream pressure, alveolar pressure, is constant throughout the lung at any instant.

It is important to realize that the boundaries between the zones are dependent on physiologic conditions – they are not fixed anatomic landmarks. Alveolar pressure changes during the course of each breath. During eupneic breathing these changes are only a few centimeters of water, but they may be much greater during speech, exercise, and other conditions. A patient on a positive-pressure ventilator with PEEP may have substantial amounts of zone 1 because alveolar pressure is always high. Similarly, after a hemorrhage or during general anesthesia, PBF and pulmonary artery pressure are low and zone 1 conditions are also likely. During exercise, cardiac output and pulmonary artery pressure increase and any existing zone 1 should be recruited to zone 2. The boundary between zones 2 and 3 will move upward as well. Pulmonary artery pressure is highly pulsatile, and so the borders between the zones probably even move up a bit with each contraction of the right ventricle.

Changes in lung volume also affect the regional distribution of PBF and will therefore affect the boundaries between zones. Finally, changes in body position alter the orientation of the zones with respect to the anatomic locations in the lung, but the same relationships exist with respect to gravity and alveolar pressure.

Hypoxic Pulmonary Vasoconstriction

Alveolar hypoxia or atelectasis causes an active vasoconstriction in the pulmonary circulation. The site of vascular smooth muscle constriction appears to be in the arterial (precapillary) vessels very close to the alveoli.

The mechanism of hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction is not completely understood. The response occurs locally, that is, only in the area of the alveolar hypoxia. Connections to the central nervous system are not necessary: An isolated, excised lung, perfused with blood by a mechanical pump with a constant output, exhibits an increased perfusion pressure when ventilated with hypoxic gas mixtures. This indicates that the increase in PVR can occur without the influence of extrinsic nerves. Thus, it is not surprising that hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction persists in human patients who had received heart-lung transplants. Hypoxia may cause the release of a vasoactive substance from the pulmonary parenchyma or mast cells in the area. Histamine, serotonin, catecholamines, and prostaglandins have all been suggested as the mediator substance, but none appears to completely mimic the response. Decreased release of a vasodilator such as nitric oxide may also be involved in hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction. Possibly several mediators act together. More recent studies have strongly indicated that hypoxia acts directly on pulmonary vascular smooth muscle to produce hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction.

Physiologic Function of Hypoxic Pulmonary Vasoconstriction

The function of hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction in localized hypoxia is fairly obvious. If an area of the lung becomes hypoxic because of airway obstruction or if localized atelectasis occurs, any mixed venous blood flowing to that area will undergo little or no gas exchange and will mix with blood draining well-ventilated areas of the lung as it enters the left atrium. This mixing will lower the overall arterial PO2 (PaO2) and may even increase the arterial PCO2 (PaCO2). The hypoxic pulmomary vasoconstriction diverts mixed venous blood flow away from poorly ventilated areas of the lung by locally increasing vascular resistance. Therefore, mixed venous blood is sent to better-ventilated areas of the lung. The problem with hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction is that it is not a very strong response because there is so little smooth muscle in the pulmonary vasculature. Very high pulmonary artery pressures can interfere with hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, as can other physiologic disturbances, such as alkalosis.

In hypoxia of the whole lung, such as might be encountered at high altitude or in hypoventilation, hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction occurs throughout the lung. Even this may be useful in increasing gas exchange because greatly increasing the pulmonary artery pressure recruits many previously unperfused pulmonary capillaries. This increases the surface area available for gas difusion and improves the matching of ventilation and perfusion. On the other hand, such a whole-lung hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction greatly increases the workload on the right venticle, and the high pulmonary artery pressure may overwhelm hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction in some parts of the lung, increase the capillary hydrostatic pressure in those vessels, and lead to pulmonary edema.

Afterload and Its Components

October 21, 2015 Cardiology, Critical Care, Physiology and Pathophysiology, Respirology No comments , , , , , , , , , , ,


Also see information about afteroad in Pharmacy Profession Forum at http://forum.tomhsiung.com/pharmacy-research-study-and-policy/physiology-and-pathophysiology/699-preload-and-afterload.html#post1130

Afterload in the intact heart reflects the resistance that the ventricle must overcome to empty its contents. It is more formally defined as the ventricular wall stress that develops during systolic ejection. Wall stress (σ), like pressure, is expressed as force per unit area and, for the left ventricle, may be estimated from Laplace relationship:

σ = (P x r)/(2 x h) [Laplace Equation]

where P is ventricular pressure, r is ventricular chamber radius, and h is ventricular wall thickness. Thus, ventricular wall stress rises in response to a higher pressure load (e.g., hypertension) or an increased chamber size (e.g., a dilated left ventricle). Conversely, as would be expected from Laplace relationship, an increase in wall thickness (h) serves a compensatory role in reducing wall stress, because the force is distributed over a greater mass per unit surface area of ventricular muscle.

Components of Afterload

The forces that contribute to ventricular afterload can be identified by their relationship to the variables in the Laplace equation. The component forces of ventricular afterload include end-diastolic volume (EDV/preload), pleural pressure, vascular impedance, and peripheral vascular resistance.

Pleural Pressure

Since afterload is a transmural wall tension, it will be influenced by the pleural pressure surrounding the heart. Therefore, negative pressure surrouding the heart will impede ventricular emptying by opposing the inward movement of the ventricular wall during systole. This effect is responsible for the transient decrease in systolic blood pressure that occurs during the insiratory phase of spontaneous breathing. When the inspiratory drop in systolic pressure is greater than 15 mm Hg, the condition is called "pulsus paradoxus" (which is a misnomer, since the response is not paradoxical, but is an exaggeration of the normal response).

Conversely, positive pressures surrounding the heart will promote ventricular emptying by facilitating the inward movement of the ventricular wall during systole. When intrathoracic pressure rises during a positive-pressure breath, there is a transient rise in systolic blood pressure, reflecting an increase in the stroke output of the heart. The inspiratory rise in blood pressure during mechanical ventilation is known as "reverse pulsus paradoxus". The "unloading" effect of positive intrathoracic pressure is the basis for the use of positive-pressure breathing as a "ventricular assist" maneuver for patients with advanced heart failure.


Vascular impedance is the force that opposes the rate of change in pressure and flow, and it is expressed primarily in the large, proximal arteries, where pulsatile flow is predominant. Impedance in the ascending aorta is considered the principal afterload force for the left ventricle, and impedance in the main pulmonary arteries is considered the principal afterload force for the right ventricle. Vascular impedance is a dynamic force that changes frequently during a single cardiac cycle, and it is not easily measured in the clinical setting.


(Systemic) vascular resistance is the force that opposes non-pulsatile or steady flow, and is expressed primarily in small, terminal blood vessels, where non-pulsative flow is predominant. About 75% of the vascular resistance is in arterioles and capillaries. In the beginning of arterioles, although the blood pressure is still pulsatile, the vascular smooth muscles have autoregulation function so the blood flow is steady. Becasue the flow is steady, the mean arterial pressure had been created to equal the "average" arterial pressure during a cardac cycle, under which the amount of blood flow per time is the same. So the relationship between SVR, MAP, and CO is:

SVR = (MAP – RAP) / CO

Similarly, the relationship between PVR, PAP, and CO is:

PVR = (PAP – LAP) / CO

However, SVR and PVR are not considered to be accurate representations of the resistance to flow in the pulmonary and systemic circulations. Because vascular impedance is not easily measured, vascular resistance is often used as a clinical measure of ventricular afterload. But animal studies have shown a poor correlation between direct measures of ventricular wall tension (true afterload) and the calculated vascular resistance. This is consistent with the notion that vascular impedance is the principal afterload force for ventricular emptying. However, the contribution of vascular resistance to afterload cannot be determined with the SVR and PVR because these parameters do not represent the actual resistance to flow in the circulatory system.

Determinants of Myocardial Oxygen Consumption



Myocyte contraciton is the primary factor determining myocardial oxygen consumption (MVO2) above basal levels. Therefore, factors that enhance tension development by the caridac muscle cells, the rate of tension development, or the number of tension generating cycles per unit time will increase MVO2. For example, doubling heart rate approximately doubles MVO2 because ventricular myocytes are generating twice the number of tension cycles per minute. Increasing inotropy also increases MVO2 because the rate of tension development is increased as well as the magnitude of tension, both of which result in increased ATP hydrolysis and oxygen consumption. Increasing afterload, because it increases tension development, also increases MVO2. Increasing preload (e.g., ventricular end-diastolic volume) also increases MVO2; however, the increase is much less than what might be expected because of the LaPlace relationship.

The LaPlace relationship has been discussed above. If we substitute ventricular end-diastolic volume/EDV for ventricular radius, we get below new LaPlace equation:

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 1.16.30 PMThis relationship indicates that a 100% increase in venticular volume (V) incrases wall tension (T) by only 26%. In contrast, increasing intraventricular pressure (P) by 100% increases wall tension by 100%. For this reason, wall tension, and therefore MVO2, is far less sensitive to changes in ventricular volume than pressure.

The Management of Hypertension (Pathophysiologic Basises)

September 10, 2015 Cardiology, Pharmacology, Physiology and Pathophysiology No comments , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hypertension is a common diseases and is defined as persistently elevated arterial blood pressure of >= 140/90 mm Hg. Most of patients belong to essential hypertension and a small percentage belong to secondary hypertension for which the most common causes include renal dysfunction resulting from severe chronic kidney disease (CKD) or renovascular disease. Besides, certain drugs or other products (Table 3-1), either directly or indirectly, can cause hypertension or exacerbate hypertension by increase BP.

Table 3-1 Secondary Causes for Hypertesnion

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 9.42.15 PM

Classification of Hypertension

  • Normal: Systolic lower than 120 mm Hg, diastolic lower than 80 mm Hg
  • Prehypertension: Systolic 120-139 mm Hg, diastolic 80-89 mm Hg
  • Stage 1: Systolic 140-159 mm Hg, diastolic 90-99 mm Hg
  • Stage 2: Systolic 160 mm Hg or greater, diastolic 100 mm Hg or greater

Hypertension Crisis: These are clinical situations where BP values are very elevated, typically >180/120 mm Hg. They are categorized as either hypertensive emergency or hypertensive urgency. The former are extreme elevations in BP that are accompanied by acute or processing target-organ damage. The latter are high elevations in BP without acute or progressing target-organ injury. Prehypertension is not considered a disease category but identifies patients whose BP is likely to increase into the classification of hypertension in the future.

Cardiovascular Risk and Blood Pressure

Hypertension must be treated and the reason why is that hypertension is a major cardiovascular risk factor and there indeed is a causal relationship between hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Also, epidemiologic data demonstrate a strong correlation between BP and CV morbidity and mortality. (Starting at a BP of 115/75 mm Hg, risk of CV disease doubles with every 20/10 mm Hg increase.) Even patients with prehypertension have an increased risk of CV disease. Because hypertension and CV morbidity/mortality has a casual relationship, treating patients with hypertension with antihypertensive drug therapy provides significant clinical benefits.


To further discuss the pathophysiology, we first need to know the mathematic formula to estimate arterial BP. According to the physic law, steady flow (Q) through a closed hydraulic circuit is directly related to the pressure gradient across the circuit (Pin – Pout), and inversely related to the resistance to flow (R) through the circuit. So Q=(Pin – Pout)/R. In the cardiovascular system, Q is cardiac output (CO), Pin is mean arterial pressure (MAP) and Pout is right atrial pressure (RAP), whereas resistance to flow (R) is total peripheral resistance (TPR). So CO=(MAP – RAP)/TPR. Because in normal conditions RAP approaches zero mm Hg, so CO=MAP/TPR and after we make a rearrange we finally get the formula of MAP=CO * TPR. Note that in some pathophysiology status RAP increases significantly and cannot be removed from the formula above.

After the discuss above, the two determinants for MAP is the cardiac output (CO) and the total peripheral resistance (TPR). If we distinguish MAP to systolic BP (SBP) and diastolic BP (DPB), CO is the major determinant of SBP, whereas TPR largely determines DBP. So factors that elevate CO or TPR can elevate BP. We category these factors into 1.humoral; 2.neuronal; 3.peripheral autoregulation; and 4.disturbances in sodium, calcium, and natriuretic hormone.

Humoral Mechanisms


RAAS stands for the rennin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, which is a complex endogenous system that play a range of functions including the regulation of arterial pressure. The RAAS regulars sodium, potassium, blood volume, and most important the vascular tone. Because the total periphery resistance (TPR) is primarily generated by arterioles, so elevated TPR could be a result of activation of RAAS – the angiotensin II (angII). For the detail discussion of TPR please refer to the threads of http://www.tomhsiung.com/wordpress/2015/06/flow-resistance-of-vessels-in-series-and-vessels-in-parallel/ and http://www.tomhsiung.com/wordpress/2015/07/vascular-resistances-and-compliance-map-and-pulse-pressure/, respectively, by Tom Hsiung. First, angII increase the vascular tone, including arterioles. Second, angII induced increased aldosterone synthesis and secretion sodium and water retention, which increase the blood volume. Increased blood volume and TPR eventually result in elevation of BP.


Vasopressin is a polypeptide hormone, also known as antidiuretic hormone/ADH, which plays an important role in extracellular fluid homeostasis (blood volume/plasma volume). Vasopressin acts on collecting ducts in the kidneys to decrease renal excretion of water. This is the most important and wide-known function of vasopressin. However, vasopressin is also a potent arteriolar vasoconstrictor.

Natriuretic Hormone

Natriuretic hormones inhibits sodium and potassium-ATPase and thus interferes with sodium transport across cell membranes. Natriuretic hormone theoretically could increase urinary exertion of sodium and water. However, this hormone might block the active transport of sodium out of arteriolar smooth muscle cells. The increased intracellular sodium concentration concentration ultimately would increase vascular tone and BP.

Insulin Resistance and Hyperinsulinemia

Hypothetically, increased insulin concentrations may lead to hypertension because of increased renal sodium retention and enhanced sympathetic nervous system activity. Moreover, insulin has growth hormone-like actions that can induce hypertrophy of vascular smooth muscle cells. Insulin also may elevated BP by increasing intracellular calcium, which lead to increased vascular resistance. The exact mechanism by which insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia occur in hypertension is unknown. However, this association is strong because many of the criteria used to define this population (i.e., elevated BP, abdominal obesity, high, triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and elevated fasting glucose) are often present in patients with hypertension.

Circulating Catecholamines

It is easy to understand the causal relationship between elevated levels of circulating catecholamines and the hypertension, from the perspective of MAP = CO * TPR.

Neuronal Regulation

Synaptic receptors, baroreceptor reflex system, and CNS are involved in the regulation of vascular resistances, cardiac outputs.

Central and autonomic nervous system are intricately involved in the regulation of arterial BP. Many receptors that either enhance or inhibit norepinephrine release are located on the presynaptic surface of sympathetic terminals. The alpha and beta presynaptic receptors play a role in negative and positive feedback to the norepinephrine-containing vesicles, respectively. Stimulation presynaptic alpha-receptors (α2) exerted a negative inhibition on norepinephrine release. Stimulation of presynaptic beta-receptors facilitates norepinephrine release.

Sympathetic neuronal fibers located on the surface of effector cells innervate the alpha- and beta-receptors. Stimulation of postsynaptic alpha-receptors (α1) on arterioles and venues results in vasoconstriction. There are two types of postsynaptic beta-receptors, β1 and β2. Both are present in all tissues innervated by the sympathetic nervous system. However, in some tissues β1-receptors predominate (e.g., heart), and in other tissues β2-receptors predominate (e.g., bronchioles). Stimulation of β1-receptors in the heart results in an increase in heart rate, and the force of contraction (so cardiac output is increased), whereas stimulation of β2-receptors in the arterioles and venues causes vasodilation.

So after the discussion of the two paragraph above, we know that the disturbance of the function of presynaptic and/or postsynaptic receptors would result the imbalance of autonomic nervous system.

Same with the autonomic nervous system but from a different aspect (above is output of autonomic nervous system and now it’s the input of nervous system),  the baroreceptor reflex system is the major negative feedback mechanism the controls sympathetic activity. Baroreceptors are nerve endings lying in the walls of large arteries, especially in the carotid arteries and aortic arch. Changes in arterial BP rapid activate baroreceptors that then transmit impulses to the brain stem through the ninth cranial nerve and vagus nerve. In this reflex system, a decrease in arterial BP stimulates baroreceptors, causing reflex vasoconstriction and increased heart rate and force of cardiac contraction. Also the periphery vascular tone increase too (TPR).

Stimulation of certain areas within the central nervous system can either increase or decrease BP. I think this mechanism must be rather complex, which involves with neurology. If we have time in future, I will take a look at the neurology.

OK. The purpose of the neuronal mechanisms is to regulate BP and maintain homeostasis. Pathologic disturbances in neuronal systems could chronically elevate BP. These systems are physiologically interrelated. A defect in one component may alter normal function in another. Therefore, cumulative abnormalities may explain the development of essential hypertension.

Peripheral/Local Mechanisms (including autoregulatory, etc.) 

Abnormalities in renal or tissue autoregulatory systems, which is just one of several local vascular regulatory mechanisms of human, could cause hypertension. Recall the formula that MAP = CO * TPR. Similarly, the disorders of local vascular regulatory .For detail information of local vascular regulatory mechanisms please refer to the thread of http://www.tomhsiung.com/wordpress/2015/07/arteriolar-tone-and-its-regulation-local-mechanisms/ by Tom Hsiung.


Epidemiologic and clinical data have associated excess sodium intake with hypertension. Population-based studies indicate that high-sodium diets are associated with a high prevalence of stroke and hypertension. Conversely, low-sodium diets are associated with a lower prevalence of hypertension. For the perspective of pathophysiology, more sodium, more water. We will discuss this phenomenon in threads that discuss the kidney.

Altered calcium homeostasis also may play an important role in the pathogenesis of hypertension. A lack of dietary calcium hypothetically can disturb the balance between intracellular and extracellular calcium, resulting in an increased intracellular calcium concentration. This imbalance can alter vascular smooth muscle function by increasing PVR (peripheral vascular resistance). Some studies have shown that dietary calcium supplementation results in a modest BP reduction for patients with hypertension.

The role of potassium fluctuations is also inadequately understood. Potassium depletion may increase PVR, but the clinical significance of small serum potassium concentration changes is unclear. Furthermore, data demonstrating reduced CV risk with dietary potassium supplementation are very limited.