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Carbon Dioxide (Bicarbonate)

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gaseous waste product from metabolism. The blood carries carbon dioxide to your lungs, where it is exhaled. More than 90% of carbon dioxide in your blood exists in the form of bicarbonate (HCO3). The rest of the carbon dioxide is either dissolved carbon dioxide gas (CO2) or carbonic acid (H2CO3). Your kidneys and lungs balance the levels of carbon dioxide, bicarbonate, and carbonic acid in the blood.

This test measures the level of bicarbonate in a sample of blood from a vein. Bicarbonate is a chemical (buffer) that keeps the pH of blood from becoming too acidic or too basic.

Bicarbonate is not usually tested by itself. It may be done on a blood sample taken from a vein as part of a panel of tests that looks at other electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and chloride. It can also be done as part of an arterial blood gas (ABG) test. For the arterial blood gas study, the blood sample is taken from an artery.

Why It Is Done

A carbon dioxide (bicarbonate) test helps find and keeps track of conditions that affect blood bicarbonate levels, including many kidney diseases, some lung diseases, and metabolic conditions.

It is often done as part of a group of laboratory blood tests (chemistry screen) to help find the cause of many kinds of symptoms.

How To Prepare

You do not need to do anything before you have this test.

Many medicines may change the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the nonprescription and prescription medicines you take.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

How It Is Done

The health professional drawing blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your arm to stop the flow of blood.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Apply a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Apply pressure to the site and then a bandage.

How It Feels

The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 30, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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