The effects of breathing 5% CO2 on human cardiovascular responses and tolerance to orthostatic stress

Exp Physiol. 2004 Jul;89(4):465-71. doi: 10.1113/expphysiol.2004.027250. Epub 2004 May 6.


Breathing carbon dioxide (CO2) is known to induce hypercapnic acidosis and to affect chemoreceptor regulation of the cardiovascular system. However, there is limited information in the literature regarding the effects of breathing CO2 upon tolerance to orthostatic stress where cardiovascular regulation is challenged. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of breathing 5% CO2 on presyncopal tolerance to lower body negative pressure (LBNP). Nine subjects (five males and four females; average +/-s.d. age 21.9 +/- 0.9 years, height 172.4 +/- 9.7 cm, mass 70.3 +/- 7.1 kg) volunteered to participate in this study. Orthostatic tolerance was determined by exposing subjects to LBNP until the onset of presyncopal signs and symptoms on two occasions each separated by approximately 1 week. On one occasion investigations were carried out while subjects were breathing room air and on the other while subjects were breathing air containing 5% CO2, inducing hypercapnia and stimulating systemic chemoreceptors. During hypercapnic conditions, as compared with normocapnia, there were significant increases (P < 0.05) in minute ventilation, end-tidal CO2 and estimated arterial P(CO2). Furthermore, under hypercapnic conditions there was an increase in orthostatic tolerance, peak heart rate and time to peak heart rate during LBNP. The LBNP-induced increase in calf circumference was significantly attenuated at -50 mmHg of LBNP in addition to a further 22.3% reduction in stroke volume under hypercapnic conditions. In conclusion, these results suggest that the possible protective element of presyncope was delayed during hypercapnia at the expense of further reductions in stroke volume. This delayed presyncopal response may have been associated with increases in cerebral blood flow (CBF) induced by the increased arterial P(CO2).

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis / physiopathology
  • Adult
  • Air
  • Carbon Dioxide / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / physiopathology*
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Respiration
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Stroke Volume
  • Supine Position


  • Carbon Dioxide