Simple diagram of the human circulatory system
The blood vessels are the part of the circulatory system, and microcirculation, that transports blood throughout the human body.These vessels are designed to transport nutrients and oxygen to the tissues of the body. They also take waste and carbon dioxide and carry them away from the tissues and back to the heart. Blood vessels are needed to sustain life as all of the body’s tissues rely on their functionality. There are three major types of blood vessels: the arteries, which carry the blood away from the heart; the capillaries, which enable the actual exchange of water and chemicals between the blood and the tissues; and the veins, which carry blood from the capillaries back toward the heart. The word vascular, meaning relating to the blood vessels, is derived from the Latin vas, meaning vessel. Some structures -- such as cartilage, the epithelium, and the lens and cornea of the eye -- do not contain blood vessels and are labeled avascular.
The circulatory system, also called the cardiovascular system or the vascular system, is an organ system that permits blood to circulate and transport nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, and blood cells to and from the cells in the body to provide nourishment and help in fighting diseases, stabilize temperature and pH, and maintain homeostasis.
The microcirculation is the circulation of the blood in the smallest blood vessels, the microvessels of the microvasculature present within organ tissues. The microvessels include terminal arterioles, metarterioles, capillaries, and venules. Arterioles carry oxygenated blood to the capillaries, and blood flows out of the capillaries into the venules into the veins.
Blood is a body fluid in humans and other animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells.
The arteries and veins have three layers. The middle layer is thicker in the arteries than it is in the veins:
The tunica intima, or intima for short, is the innermost tunica (layer) of an artery or vein. It is made up of one layer of endothelial cells and is supported by an internal elastic lamina. The endothelial cells are in direct contact with the blood flow.
A simple squamous epithelium is a single layer of flat cells in contact with the basal lamina of the epithelium. This type of epithelium is often permeable and occurs where small molecules need to pass quickly through membranes via filtration or diffusion. Simple squamous epithelia are found in capillaries, alveoli, glomeruli, and other tissues where rapid diffusion is required. Cells are flat with flattened and oblong nuclei. It is also called pavement epithelium due to its tile-like appearance. This epithelium is associated with filtration and diffusion. This tissue is extremely thin, and forms a delicate lining. It offers very little protection.
Polysaccharides are polymeric carbohydrate molecules composed of long chains of monosaccharide units bound together by glycosidic linkages, and on hydrolysis give the constituent monosaccharides or oligosaccharides. They range in structure from linear to highly branched. Examples include storage polysaccharides such as starch and glycogen, and structural polysaccharides such as cellulose and chitin.
Capillaries consist of little more than a layer of endothelium and occasional connective tissue.
A capillary is a small blood vessel from 5 to 10 micrometres (µm) in diameter, and having a wall one endothelial cell thick. They are the smallest blood vessels in the body: they convey blood between the arterioles and venules. These microvessels are the site of exchange of many substances with the interstitial fluid surrounding them. Substances which exit include water, oxygen, and glucose; substances which enter include water, carbon dioxide, uric acid, lactic acid, urea and creatinine. Lymph capillaries connect with larger lymph vessels to drain lymphatic fluid collected in the microcirculation.
When blood vessels connect to form a region of diffuse vascular supply it is called an anastomosis. Anastomoses provide critical alternative routes for blood to flow in case of blockages.
A circulatory anastomosis is a connection between two blood vessels, such as between arteries, between veins or between an artery and a vein. Anastomoses between arteries and between veins result in a multitude of arteries and veins, respectively, serving the same volume of tissue. Such anastomoses occur normally in the body in the circulatory system, serving as backup routes for blood to flow if one link is blocked or otherwise compromised, but may also occur pathologically.
There is a layer of muscle surrounding the arteries and the veins which help contract and expand the vessels. This creates enough pressure for blood to be pumped around the body. Blood vessels are part of the circulatory system, together with the heart and the blood.
The biggest difference in the structure of arteries and veins is the presence of valves. Backflow of blood is prevented in arteries by the heart. However in veins, one-direction valves are used to prevent backflow as a result of a decrease in blood pressure as the blood passes through the circulatory system.
There are various kinds of blood vessels:
An artery is a blood vessel that takes blood away from the heart to all parts of the body. Most arteries carry oxygenated blood; the two exceptions are the pulmonary and the umbilical arteries, which carry deoxygenated blood to the organs that oxygenate it. The effective arterial blood volume is that extracellular fluid which fills the arterial system.
An elastic artery is an artery with a large number of collagen and elastin filaments in the tunica media, which gives it the ability to stretch in response to each pulse. This elasticity also gives rise to the Windkessel effect, which helps to maintain a relatively constant pressure in the arteries despite the pulsating nature of the blood flow. Elastic arteries include the largest arteries in the body, those closest to the heart. They give rise to medium-sized vessels known as distributing arteries.
An arteriole is a small-diameter blood vessel in the microcirculation that extends and branches out from an artery and leads to capillaries.
They are roughly grouped as "arterial" and "venous", determined by whether the blood in it is flowing away from (arterial) or toward (venous) the heart. The term "arterial blood" is nevertheless used to indicate blood high in oxygen, although the pulmonary artery carries "venous blood" and blood flowing in the pulmonary vein is rich in oxygen. This is because they are carrying the blood to and from the lungs, respectively, to be oxygenated.
Blood vessels function to transport blood. In general, arteries and arterioles transport oxygenated blood from the lungs to the body and its organs, and veins and venules transport deoxygenated blood from the body to the lungs. Blood vessels also circulate blood throughout the circulatory system Oxygen (bound to hemoglobin in red blood cells) is the most critical nutrient carried by the blood. In all arteries apart from the pulmonary artery, hemoglobin is highly saturated (95–100%) with oxygen. In all veins apart from the pulmonary vein, the saturation of hemoglobin is about 75%.[ citation needed ] (The values are reversed in the pulmonary circulation.) In addition to carrying oxygen, blood also carries hormones, waste products and nutrients for cells of the body.
Blood vessels do not actively engage in the transport of blood (they have no appreciable peristalsis). Blood is propelled through arteries and arterioles through pressure generated by the heartbeat.[ citation needed ] Blood vessels also transport red blood cells which contain the oxygen necessary for daily activities. The amount of red blood cells present in your vessels has an effect on your health. Hematocrit tests can be performed to calculate the proportion of red blood cells in your blood. Higher proportions result in conditions such as dehydration or heart disease while lower proportions could lead to anemia and long-term blood loss.
Blood vessels also transport red blood cells which contain the oxygen necessary for daily activities. The amount of red blood cells present in your vessels has an effect on your health. Hematocrit tests can be performed to calculate the proportion of red blood cells in your blood. Higher proportions result in conditions such as dehydration or heart disease while lower proportions could lead to anemia and long-term blood loss.
Permeability of the endothelium is pivotal in the release of nutrients to the tissue. It is also increased in inflammation in response to histamine, prostaglandins and interleukins, which leads to most of the symptoms of inflammation (swelling, redness, warmth and pain).
Arteries—and veins to a degree—can regulate their inner diameter by contraction of the muscular layer. This changes the blood flow to downstream organs, and is determined by the autonomic nervous system. Vasodilation and vasoconstriction are also used antagonistically as methods of thermoregulation.
The size of blood vessels is different for each of them. It ranges from a diameter of about 25 millimeters for the aorta to only 8 micrometers in the capillaries. This comes out to about a 3000-fold range.Vasoconstriction is the constriction of blood vessels (narrowing, becoming smaller in cross-sectional area) by contracting the vascular smooth muscle in the vessel walls. It is regulated by vasoconstrictors (agents that cause vasoconstriction). These include paracrine factors (e.g. prostaglandins), a number of hormones (e.g. vasopressin and angiotensin) and neurotransmitters (e.g. epinephrine) from the nervous system.
Vasodilation is a similar process mediated by antagonistically acting mediators. The most prominent vasodilator is nitric oxide (termed endothelium-derived relaxing factor for this reason).
The circulatory system uses the channel of blood vessels to deliver blood to all parts of the body. This is a result of the left and right side of the heart working together to allow blood to flow continuously to the lungs and other parts of the body. Oxygen poor blood enters the right side of the heart through two large veins. Oxygen rich blood from the lungs enters through the pulmonary veins on the left side of the heart into the aorta and then reaches the rest of the body. The capillaries are responsible for allowing the blood to receive oxygen through tiny air sacs in the lungs. This is also the site where carbon dioxide exits the blood. This all occurs in the lungs where blood is oxygenated.
The blood pressure in blood vessels is traditionally expressed in millimetres of mercury (1 mmHg = 133 Pa). In the arterial system, this is usually around 120 mmHg systolic (high pressure wave due to contraction of the heart) and 80 mmHg diastolic (low pressure wave). In contrast, pressures in the venous system are constant and rarely exceed 10 mmHg.
Vascular resistance occurs where the vessels away from the heart oppose the flow of blood. Resistance is an accumulation of three different factors: blood viscosity, blood vessel length, and vessel radius.
Blood viscosity is the thickness of the blood and its resistance to flow as a result of the different components of the blood. Blood is 92% water by weight and the rest of blood is composed of protein, nutrients, electrolytes, wastes, and dissolved gases. Depending on the health of an individual, the blood viscosity can vary (i.e. anemia causing relatively lower concentrations of protein, high blood pressure an increase in dissolved salts or lipids, etc.).
Vessel length is the total length of the vessel measured as the distance away from the heart. As the total length of the vessel increases, the total resistance as a result of friction will increase.
Vessel radius also affects the total resistance as a result of contact with the vessel wall. As the radius of the wall gets smaller, the proportion of the blood making contact with the wall will increase. The greater amount of contact with the wall will increase the total resistance against the blood flow.
Blood vessels play a huge role in virtually every medical condition. Cancer, for example, cannot progress unless the tumor causes angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) to supply the malignant cells' metabolic demand. Atherosclerosis, the formation of lipid lumps (atheromas) in the blood vessel wall, is the most common cardiovascular disease, the main cause of death in the Western world.
Blood vessel permeability is increased in inflammation. Damage, due to trauma or spontaneously, may lead to hemorrhage due to mechanical damage to the vessel endothelium. In contrast, occlusion of the blood vessel by atherosclerotic plaque, by an embolised blood clot or a foreign body leads to downstream ischemia (insufficient blood supply) and possibly necrosis. Vessel occlusion tends to be a positive feedback system; an occluded vessel creates eddies in the normally laminar flow or plug flow blood currents. These eddies create abnormal fluid velocity gradients which push blood elements such as cholesterol or chylomicron bodies to the endothelium. These deposit onto the arterial walls which are already partially occluded and build upon the blockage.
The most common disease of the blood vessels is hypertension or high blood pressure. This is caused by an increase in the pressure of the blood flowing through the vessels. Hypertension can lead to more serious conditions such as heart failure and stroke. To prevent these diseases, the most common treatment option is medication as opposed to surgery. Aspirin helps prevent blood clots and can also help limit inflammation.
Vasculitis is inflammation of the vessel wall, due to autoimmune disease or infection.
The aorta is the main and largest artery in the human body, originating from the left ventricle of the heart and extending down to the abdomen, where it splits into two smaller arteries. The aorta distributes oxygenated blood to all parts of the body through the systemic circulation.
Veins are blood vessels that carry blood toward the heart. Most veins carry deoxygenated blood from the tissues back to the heart; exceptions are the pulmonary and umbilical veins, both of which carry oxygenated blood to the heart. In contrast to veins, arteries carry blood away from the heart.
Thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel, obstructing the flow of blood through the circulatory system. When a blood vessel is injured, the body uses platelets (thrombocytes) and fibrin to form a blood clot to prevent blood loss. Even when a blood vessel is not injured, blood clots may form in the body under certain conditions. A clot, or a piece of the clot, that breaks free and begins to travel around the body is known as an embolus.
An air embolism, also known as a gas embolism, is a blood vessel blockage caused by one or more bubbles of air or other gas in the circulatory system. Air embolisms may also occur in the xylem of vascular plants, especially when suffering from water stress. Air can be introduced into the circulation during surgical procedures, lung over-expansion injury, decompression, and a few other causes.
Ischemia or ischaemia is a restriction in blood supply to tissues, causing a shortage of oxygen that is needed for cellular metabolism. Ischemia is generally caused by problems with blood vessels, with resultant damage to or dysfunction of tissue. It also means local anemia in a given part of a body sometimes resulting from constriction. Ischemia comprises not only insufficiency of oxygen, but also reduced availability of nutrients and inadequate removal of metabolic wastes. Ischemia can be partial or total.
Venous blood is deoxygenated blood which travels from the peripheral vessels, through the venous system into the right atrium of the heart. Deoxygenated blood is then pumped by the right ventricle to the lungs via the pulmonary artery which is divided in two branches, left and right to the left and right lungs respectively. Blood is oxygenated in the lungs and returns to the left atrium through the pulmonary veins.
Endothelium refers to cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, forming an interface between circulating blood or lymph in the lumen and the rest of the vessel wall. It is a thin layer of simple, or single-layered, squamous cells called endothelial cells. Endothelial cells in direct contact with blood are called vascular endothelial cells, whereas those in direct contact with lymph are known as lymphatic endothelial cells.
The lymphatic vessels are thin-walled vessels (tubes) structured like blood vessels, that carry lymph. As part of the lymphatic system, lymph vessels are complementary to the cardiovascular system. Lymph vessels are lined by endothelial cells, and have a thin layer of smooth muscle, and adventitia that bind the lymph vessels to the surrounding tissue. Lymph vessels are devoted to the propulsion of the lymph from the lymph capillaries, which are mainly concerned with absorption of interstitial fluid from the tissues. Lymph capillaries are slightly larger than their counterpart capillaries of the vascular system. Lymph vessels that carry lymph to a lymph node are called afferent lymph vessels, and those that carry it from a lymph node are called efferent lymph vessels, from where the lymph may travel to another lymph node, may be returned to a vein, or may travel to a larger lymph duct. Lymph ducts drain the lymph into one of the subclavian veins and thus return it to general circulation.
Vascular resistance is the resistance that must be overcome to push blood through the circulatory system and create flow. The resistance offered by the systemic circulation is known as the systemic vascular resistance (SVR) or may sometimes be called by the older term total peripheral resistance (TPR), while the resistance offered by the pulmonary circulation is known as the pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR). Systemic vascular resistance is used in calculations of blood pressure, blood flow, and cardiac function. Vasoconstriction increases SVR, whereas vasodilation decreases SVR.
In animals that give live birth, the fetal circulation is the circulatory system of a fetus. The term usually encompasses the entire fetoplacental circulation, which includes the umbilical cord and the blood vessels within the placenta that carry fetal blood.
A cardiac shunt is a pattern of blood flow in the heart that deviates from the normal circuit of the circulatory system. It may be described as right-left, left-right or bidirectional, or as systemic-to-pulmonary or pulmonary-to-systemic. The direction may be controlled by left and/or right heart pressure, a biological or artificial heart valve or both. The presence of a shunt may also affect left and/or right heart pressure either beneficially or detrimentally.
The zones of the lung divide the lung into four vertical regions, based upon the relationship between the pressure in the alveoli (PA), in the arteries (Pa), in the veins (Pv) and the pulmonary interstitial pressure (Pi) :
Vascular remodelling is a process which begins at day 21 of human embryogenesis, when an immature heart begins contracting, pushing fluid through the early vasculature. This first passage of fluid initiates a signal cascade based on physical cues including shear stress and circumferential stress, which is necessary for the remodelling of the vascular network, arterial-venous identity, angiogenesis, and the regulation of genes through mechanotransduction. This embryonic process is necessary for the future stability of the mature vascular network.
The bronchial circulation is the part of the circulatory system that supplies nutrients and oxygen to the cells that constitute the lungs, as well as carrying waste products away from them. It is complementary to the pulmonary circulation that brings deoxygenated blood to the lungs and carries oxygenated blood away from them in order to oxygenate the rest of the body.