Does gravitational pressure of blood hinder flow to the brain of the giraffe?

Vascular pressure consists of the sum of two pressures: (a) pressure developed by the pumping of the ventricles against the resistance of vessels, designated as viscous flow pressure, and (b) pressure caused by gravity, traditionally called hydrostatic, better described as gravitational pressure. In a conduit, both of these pressures must be overcome when a liquid is discharged to a higher level of gravitational potential energy. If a liquid is returned to its original level, gravity neither helps nor hinders flow because of the siphon effect. This circumstance prevails in the circulatory system. Hence, P1-P2 in the Poiseuille equation excludes gravitational pressure between those points. The long neck of the giraffe, therefore, poses no impediment to blood flow in the erect posture. The giraffe has a high aortic pressure. This is not for driving the blood to its head but is for minimizing the gravitational drop of intravascular pressure and collapse of the vessels. The cerebral circulation is protected by the cerebrospinal fluid which undergoes parallel changes in pressure with posture. Other vessels in the head are less protected by connective tissue, surrounding muscles and other structures. The high aortic pressure in the giraffe is probably caused by the high total peripheral resistance of the systemic circuit due to vascular adaptations related to the overall height of the animal.

Last Updated
January 26, 2021
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