Respiratory Acidosis: Causes and Regulation

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  • 0:02 Mutualistic Relationships
  • 0:52 A Couple of Important Terms
  • 1:53 Respiratory Acidosis
  • 3:41 The Kidneys Come to the Rescue
  • 5:32 Causes Of Respiratory Acidosis
  • 7:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss an important relationship between the kidneys and the lungs and how both of them play a role in respiratory acidosis. We'll also discuss some of the major causes of respiratory acidosis.

Mutualistic Relationships

A mutualistic relationship refers typically to a couple of different species of animals helping one another out. Take, for example, the birds that clean an alligator's teeth. The alligator gets a free dental exam, no insurance necessary, and the birds get a nice meal.

It's really weird in a way that a bird and a reptile would rely on one another. They are just so different in terms of their size, function, and appearance, but their relationship is nonetheless very important.

Well, the kidneys have a relationship with the lungs that is equally weird but important. I mean, the lungs are much bigger, look totally different, and don't seem to be related to the kidneys at all! But these two organ systems are in a very important mutualistic relationship, only one fourth of which can be discussed in this lesson.

A Couple of Important Terms

Before we get to everything, I want to clarify some terms. 'Acidemia' refers to an abnormally low pH of the blood. pH is inversely proportional to the concentration of H+ (hydrogen ions, aka protons). Hydrogen ions confer acidity upon a substance. So if we raise the concentration of hydrogen, we actually lower the pH.

Acidemia is a result of acidosis. 'Acidosis' refers to a pathological state or process that leads to acidemia. We'll be using these terms later, so keep them in mind.

To help remember that acid has a low pH, just think about the fact that gastric acid sits 'down' in your stomach. Therefore, something acidic moves 'down' the pH scale.

Respiratory Acidosis

Okay, with that out of the way for a bit, let's get down to business. I wouldn't be shocked if you knew that your lungs inhale oxygen into your body and exhale carbon dioxide.

If anything impairs the ability of the lungs to exhale that carbon dioxide, then you know the CO2 (carbon dioxide) will begin to increase in the body. This is termed 'respiratory acidosis.' Again, respiratory acidosis is when an acidotic state in the body occurs due to elevated levels of CO2 as a result of respiratory malfunction. This disease state then leads to acidemia.

Remember, acidemia is a low pH of the blood. In order to get rid of it, excess CO2 in respiratory acidosis is converted via a chemical reaction in your body into excess hydrogen. So, since CO2 goes up, hydrogen goes up as a result. If hydrogen ion levels go up, then based on what I said two minutes ago, you know the pH will go down. This means you become a walking, acidic lemon.

This is completely not conducive to good health or life itself. Therefore, your lungs depend on a mutualistic relationship with the kidneys in order to keep you alive during these types of disease states. If the lungs are in trouble, the kidneys come to the rescue as best they can (the reverse, by the way, is also true).

The Kidneys Come to the Rescue

The kidneys are the gatekeepers of something known as bicarbonate (HCO3-). They control how much bicarbonate is retained within or excreted out of the body.

The bicarbonate ion is a neutralizing agent. In the context of this lesson, bicarbonate is a base that attaches to excess acidic hydrogen ions and neutralizes the acidic nature of the hydrogen. Remember, a base neutralizes an acid and vice versa.

The commercials that tout the sprays that help eliminate or neutralize odor do something similar. You spray the chemicals into the air or onto a surface. Those chemicals bind to the smelly stuff you don't like. After the chemicals bind the smelly stuff, it doesn't smell anymore because the combination of the smelly thing and the chemicals are now a new non-smelly compound.

In our body, the smelly thing is the bad acidic hydrogen, and the chemical is the basic bicarbonate that acts to neutralize our smelly hydrogen.

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