The Hydrostatic Pressure


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Net filtration occurs near the arterial end of the capillary since capillary hydrostatic pressure (CHP) is greater than blood colloidal osmotic pressure (BCOP). There is no net movement of fluid near the midpoint of the capillary since CHP = BCOP. Net reabsorption occurs near the venous end of the capillary since BCOP is greater than CHP.

Source: OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

Hydrostatic pressure, the force exerted by a fluid against a wall, causes movement of fluid between compartments. The hydrostatic pressure of blood is the pressure exerted by blood against the walls of the blood vessels by the pumping action of the heart. In capillaries, hydrostatic pressure (also known as capillary blood pressure) is higher than the opposing “colloid osmotic pressure” in blood—a “constant” pressure primarily produced by circulating albumin—at the arteriolar end of the capillary. This pressure forces plasma and nutrients out of the capillaries and into surrounding tissues. Fluid and the cellular wastes in the tissues enter the capillaries at the venule end, where the hydrostatic pressure is less than the osmotic pressure in the vessel. Filtration pressure squeezes fluid from the plasma in the blood to the IF surrounding the tissue cells. The surplus fluid in the interstitial space that is not returned directly back to the capillaries is drained from tissues by the lymphatic system, and then re-enters the vascular system at the subclavian veins.

Hydrostatic pressure is especially important in governing the movement of water in the nephrons of the kidneys to ensure proper filtering of the blood to form urine. As hydrostatic pressure in the kidneys increases, the amount of water leaving the capillaries also increases, and more urine filtrate is formed. If hydrostatic pressure in the kidneys drops too low, as can happen in dehydration, the functions of the kidneys will be impaired, and less nitrogenous wastes will be removed from the bloodstream. Extreme dehydration can result in kidney failure.

Fluid also moves between compartments along an osmotic gradient. Recall that an osmotic gradient is produced by the difference in concentration of all solutes on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. The magnitude of the osmotic gradient is proportional to the difference in the concentration of solutes on one side of the cell membrane to that on the other side. Water will move by osmosis from the side where its concentration is high (and the concentration of solute is low) to the side of the membrane where its concentration is low (and the concentration of solute is high). In the body, water moves by osmosis from plasma to the IF (and the reverse) and from the IF to the ICF (and the reverse). In the body, water moves constantly into and out of fluid compartments as conditions change in different parts of the body.

For example, if you are sweating, you will lose water through your skin. Sweating depletes your tissues of water and increases the solute concentration in those tissues. As this happens, water diffuses from your blood into sweat glands and surrounding skin tissues that have become dehydrated because of the osmotic gradient. Additionally, as water leaves the blood, it is replaced by the water in other tissues throughout your body that are not dehydrated. If this continues, dehydration spreads throughout the body. When a dehydrated person drinks water and rehydrates, the water is redistributed by the same gradient, but in the opposite direction, replenishing water in all of the tissues.

Hydrostatic pressure in glomerular capillaries drives glomerular filtration, and it is regulated by the tone of the afferent and efferent arterioles. Vasoconstriction of the efferent arteriole and vasodilatation of the afferent arteriole increases glomerular hydrostatic pressure and consequently glomerular filtration. Also contributing to glomerular filtration is the hydrostatic pressure in Bowman’s space, the permeability of the glomerular capillary, and the oncotic pressure caused by plasma proteins. The oncotic pressure in the glomerular capillaries will decrease glomerular filtration, whereas that of the ultrafiltrate in the Bowman’s space will oppose it. All of these forces are known as Starling forces.

Research Article
Intravascular hydrostatic pressure is the main force that determines fluid egress from the vasculature. It may vary in different tissues and at different levels within each capillary bed. The normal hydrostatic pressure in the capillary bed is controlled by local myogenic, neurogenic, and humoral modulation of the arterial and venous resistances. Precapillary arteriolar constriction may reduce flow, and therefore hydrostatic pressure, through a capillary bed or shunt, flows away from that bed, resulting in changes in the total surface area available for transvascular fluid movement. The hydrostatic pressure within a blood vessel at any particular site depends in part on where resistance to flow occurs, with hydrostatic pressures decreasing most across the areas of major resistance. In most tissues, the majority of resistance has been attributed to small arterioles, but experimental studies of the lung suggest that a significant pressure decrease may occur across the capillary bed itself.


Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: