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Mechanism of Breathing in Human Beings
The movement of air between the atmosphere and the lungs is known as ventilation or breathing. Inspiration and expiration are the two phases of breathing. Inspiration is the movement of atmospheric air into the lungs and expiration is the movement of alveolar air that diffuse out of the lungs. (Figure 6.4)
Lungs do not contain muscle fires but expands and contracts by the movement of the ribs and diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of tissue which separates the thorax from the abdomen. In a relaxed state, the diaphragm is domed shaped. Ribs are moved by the intercostal muscles.
External and internal intercostal muscles found between the ribs and the diaphragm helps in creating pressure gradients. Inspiration occurs if the pressure inside the lungs (intrapulmonary pressure) is less than the atmospheric pressure.
Inspiraton is initiated by the contraction of the diaphragm muscles and external intercostal muscles, which pulls the ribs and sternum upwards and outwards and increases the volume of the thoracic chamber in the dorso-ventral axis, forcing the lungs to expand the pulmonary volume.
The increase in pulmonary volume and decrease in the intrapulmonary pressure forces the fresh air from outside to enter the air passages into the lungs to equalize the pressure. This process is called inspiration.
Relaxation of the diaphragm allows the diaphragm and sternum to return to its dome shape and the internal intercostal muscles contract, pulling the ribs downward reducing the thoracic volume and pulmonary volume. This results in an increase in the intrapulmonary pressure slightly above the atmospheric pressure causing the expulsion of air from the lungs. This process is called expiration.
On an average, a healthy human breathes 12-16 times/minute. An instrument called Spirometer is used to measure the volume of air involved in breathing movements for clinical assessment of a person’s pulmonary function.
Respiratory Volumes and Capacities
The volume of air present in various phases of respiration is denoted as
Respiratory Volumes: (Figure 6.5)
Tidal Volume (TV)
Tidal volume is the amount of air inspired or expired with each normal breath. It is approximately 500 mL., i.e. a normal human adult can inspire or expire approximately 6000 to 8000mL of air per minute. During vigorous exercise, the tidal volume is about 4-10 times higher.
Inspiratory Reserve Volume (IRV)
Additional volume of air a person can inspire by forceful inspiration is called Inspiratory Reserve Volume. The normal value is 2500-3000 mL.
Expiratory Reserve Volume (ERV)
Additional volume of air a person can forcefully exhale by forceful expiration is called Expiratory Reserve Volume. The normal value is 1000-1100 mL.
Residual Volume (RV)
The volume of air remaining in the lungs after a forceful expiration. It is approximately 1100-1200 mL.
Vital capacity (VC) the maximum volume of air that can be moved out during a single breath following a maximal inspiration. A person first inspires maximally then expires maximally. VC = ERV + TV + IRV
Inspiratory Capacity (IC)
The total volume of air a person can inhale after normal expiration. It includes tidal volume and inspiratory reserve volume. IC = TV + IRV
Expiratory Capacity (EC)
The total volume of air a person can exhale after normal inspiration. It includes tidal volume and expiratory reserve volume. EC = TV + ERV
Total Lung Capacity (TLC)
The total volume of air which the lungs can accommodate after forced inspiration is called Total Lung Capacity. This includes the vital capacity and the residual volume. It is approximately 6000mL. TLC = VC + RV
Minute Respiratory Volume
The amount of air that moves into the respiratory passage per minute is called minute respiratory volume.
Normal TV = 500mL; Normal respiratory rate = 12 times/minute Therefore, minute respiratory volume = 6 Litres/minute (for a normal healthy man).
Some of the inspired air never reaches the gas exchange areas but fills the respiratory passages where exchange of gases does not occur. This air space is called dead space. Dead space is not involved in gaseous exchange. It amounts to approximately 150mL.