Partial Pressure of Gas Molecules in a Liquid

Inherent in Henry's law is the concept that when a liquid is exposed to a gas, a partial pressure equilibrium will be achieved between the gas and liquid phases. Thus, molecules of the gas that are physically dissolved in the liquid will exert tension that is equal to the partial pressure of the gas above the liquid. It is not neces sary that a defined gas space, such as a bubble, exist before pressure can be generated. Individual molecules of gas become surrounded and separated by liquid or tissue molecules. Furthermore, since they are inert and do not combine chemically with the solvent, the gas molecules remain independent and therefore are free to undergo random molecular motion and exert pressure equal to that in the gas phase.

Practically speaking, this concept explains the basis for the establishment of partial pressure equilibrium of anesthetic gas between the lung alveoli and the arterial blood. Gas molecules will move across the alveolar membrane until those in the blood, through random molecular motion, exert pressure equal to their counterparts in the lung. Similar gas tension equilibria also will be established between the blood and other tissues. For example, gas molecules in the blood will diffuse down a tension gradient into the brain until equal random molecular motion (equal pressure) occurs in both tissues.

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