Does the brain stem control breathing?

Breathing is a fundamental function of our body that we usually take for granted. But have you ever wondered how breathing actually works? Well, it all comes down to the brain stem – or does it? In this article, we are going to dive deep into the mechanisms behind breathing and explore whether or not the brainstem really has complete control over this vital process.

How does Breathing Work?

Breathing is an autonomic process in which air flows into and out of lungs. It has two main stages: inhalation (breathing in) and exhalation (breathing out). These stages work together to bring oxygen into our bloodstream while getting rid of carbon dioxide.

During inhalation, your diaphragm contracts causing your rib cage to expand. This increase of space within your ribcage creates a vacuum which sucks air into your lungs through tiny air sacs called alveoli. Exhalation happens when the diaphragm relaxes causing less space for air leading to expulsion from the lungs

The whole process uses various muscles such as intercostal muscles in between ribs as well some abdominal muscles used during exhalation.

The Basics of Brain Stem

Before diving headfirst into discussing if the brain stem controls everything, let’s first understand what exactly Brai stems are – they are part of our central nervous system responsible for maintaining involuntary processes required by body most specifically those involved with survival/economic behaviours.

The brain stem connects spinal cord different parts of brain such as Forebrain-, Cerebellum- . It can be divided into three distinct structures: midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata. The midbrain plays a crucial role in vision and hearing while pons acts like communication highway between cerebrum-the higher level thinking area-, cerebellum-coordination centre-and-medulla oblongata-responsible for regulating heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.

But does this biological consensus mean that the brainstem is solely responsible for controlling our breath? Let’s Find Out!

So, Does the Brain Stem Control Breathing?

The short answer to whether or not the brainstem controls breathing is no. While midbrain – one of three parts of brain stem- functions has nothing to do with respiration; previously mentioned medulla oblongata plays a role in regulatory process by continuously monitoring carbon dioxide levels within bloodstream

The levels of carbon dioxide determine how often we inhale and exhale. Higher amounts increase respiratory speed while lower concentrations cause decreases leading to shallow respirations This responds based on chemoreceptors located nearby such as carotid arteries (neck) which send signals up towards your brian stems’ medullary control centres

A study published in The Journal of physiology showed that if you stimulate areas outside anesthetized cat’s medulla oblongata it could still breathe albeit less predictably varying rhythms than normal. This implies other neural networks may contribute in addition to those centered here Regulatory feedback loops add possible complication since temporary suppression of higher centers via nerve blocking can lead sustained gradual changes there even if they were not altered initially indicating strong coupling between respiratory cyclicness and more complex physiological mechanisms controlled partially elsewhere

It’s worth mentioning that during extreme body conditions , such as altitude sickness affecting oxygen transport within lungs, certain muscles such as Quadriceps femoris-muscle group surrounding thigh- make additional contributions to overall inhalation at least short term until either acclimation occurs over time back regular processes reconfigure themselves.

What Else Can Affect How We Breathe?

While the brain stem does play a crucial role in our breathing mechanism . Other factors have critical influences.

Physical Factors

Several physical factors including exercise rate sediment reduction , obesity smoking asthma could all potentially impact respiratory system forcing affected individual to adjust accordingly. One of the most significant factors, however has nothing related to our body at all – its the altitude At higher elevations like climbers near Mount Everest can experience difficulty breathing as there is less oxygen available for inhalation altering overall mechanism sizeably until and unless acclimation occurs.

Environmental Factors

Other environmental issues such as pollution from industries or vehicular emissions could potentially affect respiratory system air quality . Exposure to high levels CO2 ( Carbon Monoxide ) fumes can cause headaches lethargy dizziness worsening symptoms with continued exposure Although not in context we are discussing here-these environmental concerns are deserving attention on their own right


All in all, while the brain stem (medulla oblongata) does play a crucial role in regulating respiration keeping us alive it’s important fact that other parts systems contribute too. Not only this but outside physical and ecological factors also bring large changes altogether leaving regulatory loops at constant work ensuring optimal balance is being provided. So next time you take a deep breath be sure to realize just how fortunate we really are – having these amazing organs always working behind scenes helping us inhale exhale one life-filled moment after another!

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