K3

The pH of a bicarbonate buffer system depends on the concentration of H2CO3 and HCO—, the proton donor and acceptor components. The concentration of H2CO3 in turn depends on the concentration of dissolved CO2, which in turn depends on the concentration of CO2 in the gas phase, called the partial pressure of CO2. Thus the pH of a bicarbonate buffer exposed to a gas phase is ultimately determined by the concentration of HCO— in the aqueous phase and the partial pressure of CO2 in the gas phase (Box 2-4).

Human blood plasma normally has a pH close to 7.4. Should the pH-regulating mechanisms fail or be overwhelmed, as may happen in severe uncontrolled diabetes when an overproduction of metabolic acids causes acidosis, the pH of the blood can fall to 6.8 or below, leading to irreparable cell damage and death. In other diseases the pH may rise to lethal levels.

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