Lung Resistance and Compliance


The graph plots volume exhaled versus time. In normal lungs, almost all of the air can be forcibly exhaled within one second after taking a deep breath, resulting in a curve that rises steeply at first then plateaus shortly after one second. The volume at which the plateau is reached is the FV C . In lungs of persons with restrictive lung disease, the F V C is considerably lower but the person can exhale reasonable fast, resulting in a curve that is similar in shape, but with a lower plateau, or F V C, than for normal lungs. In lungs of persons with obstructive lung disease, the F V C is low and exhalation is much slower, resulting in a flatter curve with a lower plateau.
The ratio of FEV1 (the amount of air that can be forcibly exhaled in one second after taking a deep breath) to FVC (the total amount of air that can be forcibly exhaled) can be used to diagnose whether a person has restrictive or obstructive lung disease. In restrictive lung disease, FVC is reduced but airways are not obstructed, so the person is able to expel air reasonably fast. In obstructive lung disease, airway obstruction results in slow exhalation as well as reduced FVC. Thus, the FEV1/FVC ratio is lower in persons with obstructive lung disease (less than 69 percent) than in persons with restrictive disease (88 to 90 percent). Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

OpenStax Biology 2e

Pulmonary diseases reduce the rate of gas exchange into and out of the lungs. Two main causes of decreased gas exchange are compliance (how elastic the lung is) and resistance (how much obstruction exists in the airways). A change in either can dramatically alter breathing and the ability to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

Examples of restrictive diseases are respiratory distress syndrome and pulmonary fibrosis. In both diseases, the airways are less compliant and they are stiff or fibrotic. There is a decrease in compliance because the lung tissue cannot bend and move. In these types of restrictive diseases, the intrapleural pressure is more positive and the airways collapse upon exhalation, which traps air in the lungs. Forced or functional vital capacity (FVC), which is the amount of air that can be forcibly exhaled after taking the deepest breath possible, is much lower than in normal patients, and the time it takes to exhale most of the air is greatly prolonged. A patient suffering from these diseases cannot exhale the normal amount of air.

Obstructive diseases and conditions include emphysema, asthma, and pulmonary edema. In emphysema, which mostly arises from smoking tobacco, the walls of the alveoli are destroyed, decreasing the surface area for gas exchange. The overall compliance of the lungs is increased, because as the alveolar walls are damaged, lung elastic recoil decreases due to a loss of elastic fibers, and more air is trapped in the lungs at the end of exhalation. Asthma is a disease in which inflammation is triggered by environmental factors. Inflammation obstructs the airways. The obstruction may be due to edema (fluid accumulation), smooth muscle spasms in the walls of the bronchioles, increased mucus secretion, damage to the epithelia of the airways, or a combination of these events. Those with asthma or edema experience increased occlusion from increased inflammation of the airways. This tends to block the airways, preventing the proper movement of gases. Those with obstructive diseases have large volumes of air trapped after exhalation and breathe at a very high lung volume to compensate for the lack of airway recruitment.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:

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