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Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Feb;111(2):163-74. doi: 10.1007/s00421-010-1646-9. Epub 2010 Sep 21.

Gravity, the hydrostatic indifference concept and the cardiovascular system.

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Institute of Physiology, Medical University of Graz, Harrachgasse 21/5, 8010, Graz, Austria.


Gravity, like any acceleration, causes a hydrostatic pressure gradient in fluid-filled bodily compartments. At a force of 1G, this pressure gradient amounts to 10 kPa/m. Postural changes alter the distribution of hydrostatic pressure patterns according to the body's alignment to the acceleration field. At a certain location--referred to as hydrostatically indifferent--within any given fluid compartment, pressure remains constant during a given change of position relative to the acceleration force acting upon the body. At this specific location, there is probably little change in vessel volume, wall tension, and the balance of Starling forces after a positional manoeuvre. In terms of cardiac function, this is important because arterial and venous hydrostatic indifference locations determine postural cardiac preload and afterload changes. Baroreceptors pick up pressure signals that depend on their respective distance to hydrostatic indifference locations with any change of body position. Vascular shape, filling volume, and compliance, as well as temperature, nervous and endocrine factors, drugs, and time all influence hydrostatic indifference locations. This paper reviews the physiology of pressure gradients in the cardiovascular system that are operational in a gravitational/acceleration field, offers a broadened hydrostatic indifference concept, and discusses implications that are relevant in physiological and clinical terms.

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