ABG Course Overview

Arterial blood gases are an invaluable tool in assessing ventilation, acid-base balance and oxygenation. The most important part of analyzing lab values is to remember to treat the patient, not the numbers. Lab results should always be correlated with good clinical data. Accurate history and physical examinations are a clinician's best resources.

This material is intended for new critical care nurses and those interested in critical care nursing. It covers some basic theory and practical applications of oxygenation, ventilation and acid-base balance. It is purposefully simplified and incomplete. (Please see Target Audience and Objectives pages for further information.)

Once you understand this material, you may want more comprehensive information. To that end, throughout the course, I have provided Internet links to more detailed web pages on this subject.

Please note that to earn 4.0 contact hours for this course, you are required to spend 200 minutes studying the material provided. Please visit and spend time exploring the valuable Internet links to enhance your understanding of this subject.

My purpose here is to give information that is of practical value to nurses. My hope is that this information will improve the reader's critical care decision-making, allow a better understanding of acid-base correction and ventilator management, and most importantly, be a foundation for further study of these complex physiological concepts.

The course begins with brief explanations of the concepts of acid-base balance. The four-steps for ABG interpretation are then presented, along with patient scenarios to illustrate the method.


Normal ABG Values (at sea level)

 Quick Reference Page

  pH  7.4 +/- 0.05  pH
 PaO2  90 +/- 10  Oxygenation
 PaCO2  40 +/- 5  Respiratory Mechanism
 HCO3  24 +/- 2  Metabolic Mechanism
 SaO2  97 +/- 3  Oxygenation

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The normal ABG value for pH is about 7.4

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