Alveolar gas equation

The partial pressure of oxygen (pO2) in the pulmonary alveoli is required to calculate both the alveolar-arterial gradient of oxygen and the amount of right-to-left cardiac shunt, which are both clinically useful quantities. However, it is not practical to take a sample of gas from the alveoli in order to directly measure the partial pressure of oxygen. The alveolar gas equation allows the calculation of the alveolar partial pressure of oxygen from data that is practically measurable. It was first characterized in 1946.[1]


The equation relies on the following assumptions:

  • Inspired gas contains no carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Nitrogen (and any other gases except oxygen) in the inspired gas are in equilibrium with their dissolved states in the blood
  • Inspired and alveolar gases obey the ideal gas law
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the alveolar gas is in equilibrium with the arterial blood i.e. that the alveolar and arterial partial pressures are equal
  • The alveolar gas is saturated with water


If is small, or more specifically if then the equation can be simplified to:


Quantity Description Sample value
The alveolar partial pressure of oxygen () 107 mmHg (14.2 kPa)
The fraction of inspired gas that is oxygen (expressed as a decimal). 0.21
PATM The prevailing atmospheric pressure 760 mmHg (101 kPa)
The saturated vapour pressure of water at body temperature and the prevailing atmospheric pressure 47 mmHg (6.25 kPa)
The arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide ( ) 40 mmHg (5.33 kPa)
RER The respiratory exchange ratio 0.8

Sample Values given for air at sea level at 37°C.

Doubling will double .

See also


  1. Curran-Everett D (June 2006). "A classic learning opportunity from Fenn, Rahn, and Otis (1946): the alveolar gas equation". Adv Physiol Educ. 30 (2): 58–62. doi:10.1152/advan.00076.2005. PMID 16709734.

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