Regulation of cardiac output in hypoxia

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This brief review addresses the regulation of cardiac output (Q) at rest and during submaximal exercise in acute and chronic hypoxia. To preserve systemic O2 delivery in acute hypoxia Q is increased by an acceleration of heart rate, whereas stroke volume (SV) remains unchanged. Tachycardia is governed by activation of carotid and aortic chemoreceptors and a concomitant reduction in arterial baroreflex activation, all balancing sympathovagal activity toward sympathetic dominance. As hypoxia extends over several days a combination of different adaptive processes restores arterial O2 content to or beyond sea level values and hence Q normalizes. The latter however occurs as a consequence of a decrease in SV whereas tachycardia persists. The diminished SV reflects a lower left ventricular end-diastolic volume which is primarily related to hypoxia-generated reduction in plasma volume. Hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction may contribute by increasing right ventricular afterload and thus decreasing its ejection fraction. In summary, the Q response to hypoxia is the result of a complex interplay between several physiological mechanisms. Future studies are encouraged to establish the individual contributions of the different components from an integrative perspective.

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