Blood gas analysis


Blood gas analysis, also called arterial blood gas (ABG) analysis, is a test that measures the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, as well as the acidity (pH) of the blood.


An ABG analysis evaluates how effectively the lungs are delivering oxygen to the blood and how efficiently they are eliminating carbon dioxide from it.

The test also indicates how well the lungs and kidneys are interacting to maintain normal blood pH (acid-base balance). Blood gas studies are usually done to assess respiratory disease and other conditions that may affect the lungs, and to manage patients receiving oxygen therapy (respiratory therapy). In addition, the acid-base component of the test provides information on kidney function.


Blood gas analysis is performed on blood from an artery. It measures the partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, as well as oxygen content, oxygen saturation, bicarbonate content, and blood pH.

Oxygen in the lungs is carried to the tissuesthrough the bloodstream, but only a small amount of this oxygen can actually dissolve in arterial blood. How much dissolves depends on the partial pressure of the oxygen (the pressure that the gas exerts on the walls of the arteries). Therefore, testing the partial pressure of oxygen is actually measuring how much oxygen the lungs are delivering to the blood. Carbon dioxide is released into the blood as a by-product of cell metabolism. The partial carbon dioxide pressure indicates how well the lungs are eliminating this carbon dioxide.

The remainder of oxygen that is not dissolved in the blood combines with hemoglobin, a protein-iron compound found in the red blood cells. The oxygen content measurement in an ABG analysis indicates how much oxygen is combined with the hemoglobin. A related value is the oxygen saturation, which compares the amount of oxygen actually combined with hemoglobin to the total amount of oxygen that the hemoglobin is capable of combining with.

Carbon dioxide dissolves more readily in the blood than oxygen does, primarily forming bicarbonate and smaller amounts of carbonic acid. When present in normal amounts, the ratio of carbonic acid to bicarbonate creates an acid-base balance in the blood, helping to keep the pH at a level where the body's cellular functions are most efficient. The lungs and kidneys both participate in maintaining the carbonic acid-bicarbonate balance. The lungs control the carbonic acid level and the kidneys regulate the bicarbonate. If either organ is not functioning properly, an acid-base imbalance can result. Determination of bicarbonate and pH levels, then, aids in diagnosing the cause of abnormal blood gas values.

The procedure

The blood sample is obtained by arterial puncture (usually in the wrist, although it could be in the groin or arm) or from an arterial line already in place. If a puncture is needed, the skin over the artery is cleaned with an antiseptic. A technician then collects the blood with a small sterile needle attached to a disposable syringe. The patient may feel a brief throbbing or cramping at the site of the puncture. After the blood is drawn, the sample must be transported to the laboratory as soon as possible for analysis.


There are no special preparations. Patients have no restrictions on drinking or eating before the test. If the patient is receiving oxygen, the oxygen concentration must remain the same for 20 minutes before the test; if the test is to be taken without oxygen, the gas must be turned off for 20 minutes before the test is taken. The patient should breathe normally during the test.


After the blood has been taken, the technician or the patient applies pressure to the puncture site for 10-15 minutes to stop the bleeding, and then places a dressing over the puncture. The patient should rest quietly while applying the pressure to the puncture site. Health care workers will observe the patient for signs of bleeding or circulation problems.


Risks are very low when the test is done correctly. Risks include bleeding or bruising at the site, or delayed bleeding from the site. Very rarely, there may be a problem with circulation in the puncture area.

Normal results

Normal blood gas values are as follows:

  • partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2): 75-100 mm Hg
  • partial pressure of carbon dioxide (PaCO2): 35-45 mm Hg
  • oxygen content (O2CT): 15-23%
  • oxygen saturation (SaO2): 94-100%
  • bicarbonate (HCO3): 22-26 mEq/liter
  • pH: 7.35-7.45

Abnormal results

Values that differ from those listed above may indicate respiratory, metabolic, or kidney disease. These results also may be abnormal if the patient has experienced trauma that may affect breathing (especially head and neck injuries). Disorders, such as anemia, that affect the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, can produce an abnormally low oxygen content value.