The human ventilatory responses to different stresses

Mike Tipton, Abbi Harper, Julian F. R. Paton, Joseph Costello

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Many stressors cause an increase in ventilation in humans. This is predominantly reported as an increase in minute ventilation (VE). But, the same (VE) can be achieved by a wide variety of changes in the depth (tidal volume, VT) and number of breaths (respiratory frequency, ƒR). This analysis of published papers investigated the impact of stressors on ƒR and VT, including:

•Sudden or prolonged cold exposure (12 studies; 176 participants)
•Passive and Active hyperthermia (13 studies; 153 participants)
•Hypoxia (10 studies; 290 participants)
•Panic (8 studies; 470 participants)
•Pain (4 studies, 56 participants)

The aim was to determine if there is an overall differential control of fR and VT that applies in a wide range of conditions. Results: for the stressors reviewed, as the stress becomes more intense VE generally becomes increased more by ƒR than VT, regardless of whether this was the case at lower intensities of stress. We have suggested that, given the range of respiratory responses that can be elicited from the ventral respiratory column when connected to the pons, it is a most likely site for directly mediating ƒR and/or VT changes. We were tempted to conclude that the ventilatory response evoked by a stress depends on the nature of that stress: with metabolic/chemical stimuli normally resulting in an increase in both ƒR and VT; and non-metabolic/non-chemical intense stimuli (thermal, nociceptive, psychological) primarily resulting in an increase in ƒR. However, current understanding of the pathways involved, the complex integration, the multiple mechanical and physiological determinants of the ventilatory response and the difficulty of experimentally evoking and isolating a standardised stressor, make this suggestion impossible to test definitively at this time. In the areas of Acute Mountain Sickness, disease-related hypoxic ventilatory responses and clinical psychology we have some tentative evidence to support the idea that the pattern of the ƒR and VT response of an individual may provide information regarding their physiological and pathophysiological state. We conclude that a careful analysis of the breathing pattern of a patient might be informative diagnostically; there are likely to be associations between breathing pattern and potential causes of a disease and these could inform effective treatment strategy. Much more investigation is required in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017
EventThe 17th International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics (ICEE 2017, Kobe) - Kobe, Japan
Duration: 12 Nov 201717 Nov 2017


ConferenceThe 17th International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics (ICEE 2017, Kobe)


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