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Le Châtelier's Principle

Introduces LeChâtelier’s Principle and how it governs chemical equilibria.

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Just Breathe Deeply

Just Breathe Deeply

Credit: Jon Nicholls
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/124790416/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A feeling of panic is a very common phenomenon. We all panic when we lose our keys or we’re late for an appointment, for example. However, these are not panic attacks. A true panic attack involves an intense feeling of fear that may last for hours.

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  • The dissolved CO2 in blood is in equilibrium with protons and bicarbonate anion. The amounts of each constituent at any given moment is influenced by Le Châtelier’s principle and governed mainly by the inhaling and exhaling of carbon dioxide. If CO2 levels are high, the equilibrium shifts toward the formation of more hydrogen and bicarbonate ions, producing a lower blood pH. If CO2 levels are low, the shift is in the opposite direction, hydrogen ion concentration decreases and the pH goes up.
  • In a panic attack, the individual hyperventilates, exhaling more CO2 than normal. This causes the blood pH to increase as more hydrogen ions are consumed to restore the equilibrium, producing a situation known as respiratory alkalosis. This is not usually life-threatening and can be dealt by slow breathing. Some physicians recommend breathing into a paper bag since that will lead to more CO2 being re-inhaled, but this is not always effective.
  • Watch a video dealing with carbon dioxide and blood pH at the link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMgbF-P5miQ

Show What You Know

Use the links below to learn more about panic attacks. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How is CO2 measured in the blood?
  2. What are the primary physical symptoms of a panic attack?
  3. What is accomplished by breathing into a paper bag?
  4. Why is this therapy not recommended?

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  1. [1]^ Credit: Jon Nicholls; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/124790416/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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