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Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts

Richard E. Klabunde, PhD


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Active Hyperemia

Relationship between skeletal muscle blood flow and oxygen consumption
Active hyperemia is the increase in organ blood flow (hyperemia) that is associated with increased metabolic activity of an organ or tissue. An example of active hyperemia is the increase in blood flow that accompanies muscle contraction, which is also called exercise or functional hyperemia in skeletal muscle. Blood flow increases because the increased oxygen consumption of during muscle contraction stimulates the production of vasoactive substances that dilate the resistance vessels in the skeletal muscle. Other examples include the increase in gastrointestinal blood flow during digestion of food, the increase in coronary blood flow when heart rate is increased, and the increase in cerebral blood flow associated with increased neuronal activity in the brain. The figure shows that there is a resting flow associated with the basal oxygen consumption of the tissue. As the oxygen consumption increases, there is generally a near-linear increase in blood flow until the vessels begin to achieve a maximally dilated state.

The magnitude of active hyperemia responses differ among organs because of the relative changes in metabolic activity from rest and their vasodilatory capacity. Active hyperemia can result in up to a 50-fold increase in muscle blood flow with maximal exercise, whereas cerebral blood flow may only increase 2-fold with increased neuronal activity.

Active hyperemia can also be influenced by competing vasoconstrictor mechanisms. For example, sympathetic activation during exercise can reduce the maximal skeletal muscle active hyperemia compared to what would occur in the absence of sympathetic activation.

Active hyperemia may be due to a combination of tissue hypoxia and the generation of vasodilator metabolites such as potassium ion, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and adenosine.

Revised 03/28/2007

DISCLAIMER: These materials are for educational purposes only, and are not a source of medical decision-making advice.