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Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts

Richard E. Klabunde, PhD


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Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts textbook cover

Click here for information on Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts, 2nd edition, a textbook published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2012)

Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts textbook cover

Click here for information on Normal and Abnormal Blood Pressure, a textbook published by Richard E. Klabunde (2013)


Hemodynamics (Pressure, Flow, and Resistance)

Hemodynamics can be defined as the physical factors that govern blood flow. These are the same physical factors that govern the flow of any fluid, and are based on a fundamental law of physics, namely Ohm's Law, which states that current (I) equals the voltage difference (ΔV) divided by resistance (R). In relating Ohm's Law to fluid flow, the voltage difference is the pressure difference (ΔP; sometimes called driving pressure, perfusion pressure, or pressure gradient), the resistance is the resistance to flow (R)  offered by the blood vessel and its interactions with the flowing blood, and the current is the blood flow (F). This hemodynamic relationship can be summarized by:

flow equation

For the flow of blood in a blood vessel, the ΔP is the pressure difference between any two points along a given length of the vessel. When describing the flow of blood for an organ, the pressure difference is generally expressed as the difference between the arterial pressure (PA) and venous pressure (PV). For example, the blood flow for the kidney is determined by the renal artery pressure, renal vein pressure, and renal vascular resistance.

The blood flow across a heart valve follows the same relationship as for a blood vessel; however, the pressure difference is the two pressures on either side of the valve. For example, the pressure difference across the aortic valve that drives flow across that valve during ventricular ejection is the intraventricular pressure (PIV) minus the aortic pressure (PAo). The resistance (R) is the resistance to flow that is related in large part to the size of the valve opening. Therefore, the relationship describing the flow across the aortic valve is:

flow equation heart valve

graphical relationship between pressure, flow and resistance
Under ideal laminar flow conditions, in which vascular resistance is independent of flow and pressure, the relationship between pressure, flow and resistance can be depicted as shown in the figure to the right. Because flow and resistance are reciprocally related, an increase in resistance decreases flow at any given ΔP. Also, at any given flow along a blood vessel or across a heart valve, an increase in resistance increases the ΔP.

Changes in resistance are the primary means by which blood flow is regulated within organs because control mechanisms in the body generally maintain arterial and venous blood pressures within a narrow range. However, changes in perfusion pressure, when they occur, will affect flow.

The above relationship also indicates that there is a linear and proportionate relationship between flow and perfusion pressure. This linear relationship, however, is not followed when pathological conditions lead to turbulent flow, because turbulence decreases the flow at any given perfusion pressure. Furthermore, the pulsatile nature of flow in large arteries also alters this relationship so that greater pressures are required for a given flow.  In other words, pulsatility, like turbulence, increases resistance to flow.

What factors determine resistance to flow within a vascular bed?  CLICK HERE

Revised 04/12/07

DISCLAIMER: These materials are for educational purposes only, and are not a source of medical decision-making advice.