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Module 1: Introduction to the Cardiovascular System

Learning Outcomes

Identify why there is a need for a circulatory system in the human body
Identify the substances carried to and from the cells in the body
List some circulatory systems
Briefly describe the components of a circulatory system
Briefly outline the structure and functions of the human cardiovascular systems
Define blood
List and briefly describe the components of blood
List the steps involved in response to haemorrhage
Distinguish between whole blood and plasma transfusions
Recognise why blood donors and recipients must be matched
Outline the role played by blood in temperature control

Introduction to the cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system in the primary circulatory system of the human body.
It comprises:
A heart
Blood vessels
General functions of the cardiovascular system
One function of the cardiovascular system is transport.
Some substances carried by the cardiovascular system are dissolved or suspended in the fluid portion of the
Others are bound up in special cellular elements called red blood cells (RBCs).
The cardiovascular system also provides protection against foreign substances. This function involves active
attack by white blood cells as well as more subtle processes of the immune system.
Direction flow of arteries and veins
Blood vessels are the conduits of the cardiovascular system. They make up a closed system, since there is no
place in the system where whole blood can leave.
Arteries generally carry blood from the chambers of the heart to the tissues of the body.
Veins carry blood from the tissues to the chambers of the heart.
(Coronary arteries carry blood from the chambers of the heart inside to the walls of the heart outside.)
The circulatory system
Blood circulation is also a two-cycle system.
It involves both the pulmonary cycle and the systemic cycle. Blood circulates through two circuits.
In the pulmonary cycle, blood circulates from the heart to the lungs and back to the heart.
In the systemic cycle, blood circulates from the heart to the rest of the body and back to the heart.
Foetal circulation
Since the foetus is located within the uterus, its lungs do not take in air.
Therefore, the pulmonary cycle does not function in the foetus.
Essentially, foetal blood flows to and from the placenta.
There are certain bypasses in the heart to avoid the pulmonary cycle.
At the time of birth, the foetal circulation is changed to the normal pattern.

Introduction to circulatory systems

In simple organisms, such as unicellular or one-/two-layer organisms, materials can be transferred among cells
by simple processes of diffusion.
However, in large organisms, a system is needed for the distribution and collection of materials.
This is because diffusion does not occur fast enough to carry the large volumes of materials necessary through
the greater distances required.
Circulatory systems
Circulatory systems, for example the cardiovascular system, are used by the human body to carry substances.
Oxygen is obtained by the blood through the process of external respiration in the lungs.
Oxygen is then transported to the individual body cells, where it is used in metabolic oxidation.
This provides energy for production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is necessary for carrying on the life
processes of the body.
Some of the nutrients distributed to the body cells are products of the digestive system.
These materials meet individual cell requirements for energy, growth, repair, synthesis of new materials, and
storage for later use.
Waste substances
Some substances are collected from the body cells for elimination.
These include carbon dioxide, nitrogenous wastes, and other potentially harmful substances that are carried to
organs like the lungs, liver, or kidneys for elimination from the body.
Hormones are the products of endocrine glands.
Hormones and other control substances are distributed throughout the body by circulatory systems.
The tissues or organs affected by these substances are usually called target organs.
In turn, substances released by the target organs often affect the original endocrine gland. This results in a
feedback system.

Components of the circulatory system

Any circulatory system has three general components:
Motive forces
The vehicle is a fluid (flowing) medium.
The materials being carried are dissolved or suspended in this fluid.
Examples of vehicles include blood, lymph, and cerebrospinal fluid.
Conduits are like pipes.
They contain the fluids in which materials are transported to and from the various parts of the body.
The blood vessels and lymph vessels are examples.
Motive forces
Motive forces act upon the vehicle to make it flow through the conduits.
In the cardiovascular system, these are provided by the heart.

Examples of circulatory systems

Some examples of circulatory systems in the human body:
The cardiovascular system
The lymphatic system
The CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) system
The aqueous humour of the bulbous oculi (eyeball)
The endolymph and perilymph (fluids of the inner ear)

Blood is the vehicle of the cardiovascular system.
Thus, it is the component which actually transports substances.
Blood is composed of:
Formed elements
Plasma water component
Plasma makes up about 55% of the total blood volume.
The major constituent of plasma is water.
The physical characteristics of water make it a very good vehicle:
Water is fluid it can flow through the conduits
Most substances can be dissolved in water (universal solvent)
At ordinary pressures, water is essentially non-compressible
In addition, water has important temperature characteristics.
Water has ample heat-carrying capacity. It can carry heat readily throughout the body.
Some of this heat is transferred to the water of the sweat glands.
Since water can dissipate great quantities of heat through evaporation, excess heat can be efficiently disposed of
at the surface of the skin.
Plasma dissolved and suspended substances
To some extent, all transported substances are dissolved or suspended in the water of the plasma:
Various gases
End products of digestion
Various control substances
Waste products
Three major plasma proteins albumin, globulins, and fibrinogen
Dissolved salts (electrolytes)
Together with the dissolved salts (electrolytes), the plasma proteins help to maintain the tonicity of the plasma.
In addition, fibrinogen is important to blood clotting.
Formed elements
The remainder of the blood volume consists of:
Red blood cells
White blood cells
In adults, these formed elements normally make up 40-45% of the total blood volume.
The percentage by volume of red blood cells in the blood is called the haematocrit.
Red blood cells are also called RBCs or erythrocytes.
Haemoglobin is a special protein which is found within the RBC cytoplasm.
Because of its iron atoms, haemoglobin has a great affinity for oxygen.
It will readily pick up oxygen until it is saturated. At the same time, however, haemoglobin will readily give up
oxygen in areas of low concentration.

The primary function of RBCs is to carry oxygen to the individual cells of the body.
Structure of red blood cells
The normal, mature red blood cell is a biconcave disc.
The biconcave shape results from the loss of the nucleus just before the final maturation of the RBC.
Since this shape increases the surface area of the disc, there is an increase in the capacity for the flow of
substances into and out of the RBC.
Life cycle of the red blood cell
Because of the loss of its nucleus, the RBC has a limited life period of about 120 days.
At the end of this period, the spleen removes the worn out RBC, and the liver salvages the pieces, mainly the
White blood cells
White blood cells are another of the formed elements of the blood. They are also known as WBCs or leucocytes.
There are several types of WBCs, including neutrophils, monocytes, and other phagocytic WBCs.
These actively attack foreign substances and engulf them in a process called phagocytosis.
Some phagocytic WBCs can move independently out of the capillaries and penetrate into the tissues of the body.
When WBCs are overcome by foreign substances and die, their bodies accumulate to form a substance called
Lymphocytes are another type of WBC.
They are involved with the immune system of the body, including the production of antibodies.
The platelets are the third type of formed element in the blood.
Platelets are fragments of former cells called megakaryocytes.
The role played by platelets is crucial to the clotting process.

Blood for transport

The blood is the vehicle for the cardiovascular system, used to transport substances around the body.
Oxygen is the air filling the alveolus of the lungs.
The oxygen passes through the walls of the alveolus and capillary to become dissolved in the plasma of the
Most of the dissolved oxygen is rapidly picked up by the haemoglobin of the RBCs.
Thus, the RBC is the main transporting element for oxygen in the blood.
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is produced during metabolic oxidation within the individual cell.
It passes through the cell membrane and the wall of the capillary to become dissolved in the plasma of the blood.
Through action of an enzyme in the RBCs, most of the carbon dioxide (CO2) is transformed into bicarbonate ions
Transport of nutrients
Other substances, such as the end products of digestion, are also carried by the blood.
They are either dissolved or suspended in the plasma.

Blood and energy mobilisation

The life processes cannot continue in the bodys cells without sources of energy.
The cardiovascular system is critical to the mobilisation of energy in the following areas:
Transport of glucose and oxygen

Transport of hormones
Transport of fats
Prioritisation of blood supply

Transport of glucose and oxygen

The blood carries glucose and oxygen around the body.
Energy is released from the glucose during metabolic oxidation and stored in ATP molecules.
This stored energy can then be retrieved when required by the life processes of the body.
Transport of hormones
When the hormone epinephrine (adrenalin) is secreted by the adrenal gland, it is delivered to all parts of the body
by the cardiovascular system.
Among other effects, epinephrine increases the rate of metabolism of all cells of the body.
This helps to mobilise energy during a fight-or-flight reaction.
Transport of fats
In periods when much energy is required, the body can use its stores of fat as sources of energy.
The lymphatic circulatory system picks up the end products of lipid (fat) digestion and carries them to the
cardiovascular system.
This fat is generally deposited throughout the body, particularly the subcutaneous layer, as yellow fat.
In a rapid turnover, the high energy content of the fat is released for use throughout the body.
In infants, there is often brown fat at the junctions of the major blood vessels.
In periods of high energy, this brown fat releases energy into the bloodstream immediately.
Prioritisation of blood supply
Blood can be delivered to the body parts where it is most needed.
For example, when a specific portion of the cerebral cortex is active, more blood is delivered to that portion.

Responses to haemorrhage
A blood vessel may be damaged transection (cutting across) or rupture.
At such points, a volume of whole blood can flow out of the blood vessels.
This escape of blood from the blood vessels is called haemorrhage.
(HAEMO = blood. RHAGE = excessive flow, bursting forth.)
When this happens, the blood system responds in a number of ways.
Vascular contraction
The first response to a cut or to ruptured vessels is contraction (spasm) of the blood vessel itself.
This may considerably reduce the volume of blood loss.
Also at this stage, the platelets move towards the cut in the vessel wall.
Platelet plug
If the hole is small, a plug formed by clumping of the platelets may be adequate to stop the bleeding.
Blood clotting
There is a complicated process for sealing off holes or ends of blood vessels after a cut or rupture.
By this process, called coagulation or clotting, the blood forms a solid mass to seal the opening where the blood
is escaping.
The mass is called a blood clot.
After many intermediate steps, the protein fibrinogen of the blood is converted into sticky strands of fibrin.
These sticky strands adhere to the wall of the opening and form a meshwork, which traps RBCs and plasma.
Thus, the opening is sealed.
Mobilisation of blood reservoirs

Certain areas of the body contain sufficient blood to enable them to be used as reservoirs to maintain the
circulating blood volume.
This is important when a volume of blood has been lost through haemorrhage.
Among these are the spleen and the liver, whose sinuses together can release several hundred millilitres of
Also important are several groups of veins, including the large abdominal veins, which can also provide several
hundred millilitres of blood.
A haematoma is a collection of blood, usually clotted, in an organ, space, or tissue.
When found immediately beneath the skin, it will produce a purplish spot or mark.
With time, as the clot is broken down and reabsorbed, the haematoma changes colour and becomes smaller.

Blood transfusion and blood matching

Blood transfusion
In cases where an individual has lost whole blood by haemorrhaging, it is often necessary to give transfusion of
whole blood.
Whole blood transfusions continue the functions of the red blood cells.
On the other hand, if an individual has suffered burns causing a loss of fluid but not of formed elements, plasma
or a plasma substitute will often be used.
Blood matching
There are a number of substances (antigens) on the surfaces of red blood cells that vary among individuals.
The blood of other individuals may contain or develop antibodies to these antigens.
Before a blood transfusion is carried out, the blood of the recipient and the donor must be matched to avoid
potentially fatal reactions.
Important systems of the blood antigens include the ABO system and the Rh system.

Temperature control by means of the blood

The cardiovascular system plays a role in the control of body temperature in the following areas:
Elimination of excess heat
Conservation of body heat
Control of core temperature
Control of core temperature counter current mechanism
Cooling of organs with a high metabolic rate
Warming of inflowing air
Elimination of excess heat
Heat is produced as a by-product of various activities of the human body, particularly muscular contractions.
When excess heat is accumulated, it must be eliminated from the body to maintain a healthy condition.
The water of the blood has a great heat-carrying capacity.
There are superficial capillary beds in the subcutaneous layer, close to the surface of the body.
When the blood flows through these beds, some of its heat can radiate directly to the surrounding environment.
The sweat glands take water from the blood and secrete it onto the surface of the skin.
Here, even more calories of heat are lost during the evaporation of the water.
Conservation of body heat
If the body has an insufficient amount of heat, heat loss must be reduced.
For this purpose, the superficial capillary beds can be closed down.
Then, the fat in the subcutaneous layer serves as insulation.

Core temperature control

Unlike the peripheral portions of the body, whose temperatures may vary considerably, the centre of the body
must be maintained at a certain temperature within very narrow limits.
There are special temperature detectors in the hypothalamus of the forebrain stem.
These continuously monitor the temperature of the blood flowing through the brain.
Core temperature control counter current mechanism
The blood system uses a counter current mechanism to maintain core temperature:
The peripheral blood in the limbs is several degrees cooler than the blood in the centre of the body.
Therefore, it must be warmed as it returns to the heart.
The arteries and veins of the limbs are located side by side as they extend from the trunk and through the length
of the limbs.
As it returns to the trunk, cool venous blood is gradually warmed by the arterial blood flowing in the opposite
Cooling of organs with a high metabolic rate
Certain organs of the body, such as the brain and the liver, have a relatively high metabolic rate.
Because of this, they produce excessive heat.
Part of the blood supply to these organs is specifically designed to remove the excess calories of heat.
Warming of inflowing air
As blood flows through the arteries of the mucoperiosteum of the nasal chambers, the inflowing air is warmed.
At the site of an infection or injury, the most common reaction observed is erythema (redness).
This can also occur in response to exposure to cold temperatures.
The redness indicates that extra blood and heat are available for healing/warming.


Large multicellular organisms such as humans require circulatory systems for the distribution and
collection of substances
Substances carried by circulatory systems include oxygen, nutrients, waste products, and hormones
Circulatory systems in the human body include the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system, and
the cerebrospinal fluid system
The components of any circulatory system include the vehicle, conduits, and motive forces
The cardiovascular system comprises the blood, the blood vessels (arteries and veins), and the heart
Generally, arteries carry blood from the heart to the body tissues, while veins carry blood from the body
tissues to the heart
Blood circulation is also a two cycle system: it involves both the pulmonary cycles and the systemic
Blood is the vehicle of the circulatory system
Blood is composed of plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets
Red blood cells carry oxygen
White blood cells play a role in protecting the body from infection
The blood transports oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients, waste products, and hormones
The response of the vascular system to haemorrhaging involves vascular contraction, clumping of
platelets, and the blood clotting process
The cardiovascular system enables energy mobilisation by:
o Carrying the oxygen required to make ATP
o Carrying hormones needed to mobilise energy
o Carrying fats needed for energy
o Increasing blood supply to particular areas when they most need it

Recipient and donor blood types must be matched for blood transfusions
Blood plays an important role in temperature control in the body