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The Physics, Clinical Measurement and Equipment of Anaesthetic Practice for the FRCA$
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Patrick Magee and Mark Tooley

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199595150

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199595150.001.0001

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Gas pressure, Volume and Flow Measurement

Gas pressure, Volume and Flow Measurement

Chapter 14 Gas pressure, Volume and Flow Measurement
The Physics, Clinical Measurement and Equipment of Anaesthetic Practice for the FRCA

Patrick Magee

Mark Tooley

Oxford University Press

The physics of pressure, flow and the gas laws have been discussed in Chapter 7 in relation to the behaviour of gas and vapour. This section will focus on the physical principles of the measurement of gas pressure, volume and flow. Unlike a liquid, a gas is compressible and the relationship between pressure, volume and flow depends on the resistance to gas flow (or impedance if there is a frequency dependence between pressure and flow in alternating flow, see Chapter 4 for the electrical analogy of this) in conduits (bronchi, anaesthetic tubing); it also depends on the compliance of structures being filled and emptied (alveoli, reservoir bags, tubing or bellows). Normal breathing occurs by muscular expansion of the thorax, thus lowering the intrathoracic pressure, allowing air or anaesthetic gas to flow towards the alveoli down a pressure gradient from atmospheric pressure. When positive pressure ventilation occurs, gas is ‘pushed’ under pressure into the alveoli. Depending on the exact relationship between the ventilator and the lungs, different relationships exist between airway pressure (rather than alveolar pressure, which cannot easily be measured) and gas flow and volume. Gas pressure measurement devices were traditionally in the form of an aneroid barometer, a hollow metal bellows calibrated for pressure and temperature, which contracts when the external pressure on it increases, and expands when it decreases. The movement is linked to a pointer and indicator dial. It is often more convenient to make the device in the shape of part of a circular section, but the principle is the same. This is what the Bourdon gauge, which commonly measures pressure in gas cylinders, looks like. The detection of movement of the diaphragm of an aneroid barometer can take several forms. The movement can either be linked via a direct mechanical linkage to a pointer, or diaphragm movement can be linked to a capacitative or inductive element in an electrical circuit, such as a Wheatstone bridge. Airway pressure during spontaneous breathing or artificial ventilation is low. The preferred units of measurement are cm H2O and the range of values is between −20 and +20 cmH2O. The aneroid barometer to measure this will therefore be of light construction, using thin copper for the bellows material.

Keywords:   Bell spirometer, Bourdon gauge, Fleisch pneumotachograph, Rotameter, Vitalograph, anaeroid barometer, body plethysmograph, forced vital capacity (FVC), peak expiratory flowmeter, physiological deadspace, pitot tube, positive pressure ventilation, residual volume, respirometry, spirometer, tidal volume, total lung capacity, ultrasonic flowmeter, vital capacity

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