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Blood gases

Blood gases is a measurement of how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is in your blood. It also determines the acidity (pH) of your blood.

Alternative Names

Arterial blood gas analysis; ABG

How the test is performed

Usually, blood is taken from an artery. The blood may be collected from the radial artery in the wrist, the femoral artery in the groin, or the brachial artery in the arm.

The health care provider may test circulation to the hand before taking a sample of blood from the wrist area.

The health care provider will insert a small needle through the skin into the artery. You can choose to have numbing medicine (anesthesia) applied to the site before the test begins.

In some cases, blood from a vein may be used.

After the blood is taken, pressure is applied to the site for a few minutes to stop the bleeding. The health care provider will watch the site for signs of bleeding or circulation problems.

The sample must be quickly sent to a laboratory for analysis to ensure accurate results.

How to prepare for the test

There is no special preparation. If you are on oxygen therapy, the oxygen concentration must remain constant for 20 minutes before the test.

How the test will feel

You may feel brief cramping or throbbing at the puncture site.

Why the test is performed

The test is used to evaluate respiratory diseases and conditions that affect the lungs. It helps determine the effectiveness of oxygen therapy. The test also provides information about the body's acid/base balance, which can reveal important clues about lung and kidney function and the body's general metabolic state.

See also:

Normal Values

Values at sea level:

  • Partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2) - 75 - 100 mmHg
  • Partial pressure of carbon dioxide (PaCO2) - 38 - 42 mmHg
  • Arterial blood pH of 7.38 - 7.42
  • Oxygen saturation (SaO2) - 94 - 100%
  • Bicarbonate - (HCO3) - 22 - 28 mEq/L

Note: mEq/L = milliequivalents per liter; mmHg = millimeters of mercury

At altitudes of 3,000 feet and above, the oxygen values are lower.

Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to lung, kidney, or metabolic diseases. Head or neck injuries or other injuries that affect breathing can also lead to abnormal results.

What the risks are

There is very little risk when the procedure is done correctly. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with this test may include:

  • Bleeding at the puncture site
  • Blood flow problems at puncture site (rare)
  • Bruising at the puncture site
  • Delayed bleeding at the puncture site
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

Special considerations

Tell your health care provider if you are taking any blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), including aspirin.

Call your health care provider if you notice bleeding, bruising, numbness, tingling, or change in skin color at the puncture site.

References

Effros RM, Swenson ER. Acid-base balance. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al. Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 7.

Seifter JL. Acid-base disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap120.

Updated: 9/1/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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