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Human and social Biology

The Circulatory system

Blood vessels-arteries and veins

Blood flows through the body in a system of tube like blood vessels, arranged in such a way that they all
lead back to the heart. The blood flows away from the heart in vessels called arteries and it flows back
towards the heart in vessels called veins. Joining he arteries and the veins are the capillaries. The main
artery is called the aorta and the main vein is called the vena cava.

The human double circulation

The arrangement of the human circulatory system is called a double circulation because the blood
passes through the heart twice for each complete circuit of the body. The blood flows to the lungs under
high pressure (so a larger volume of blood flows past the lung surfaces in a short time).Then, having
picked up oxygen at the lungs, the blood receives another ‘boost’ of pressure from the heart to drive it
out to the tissues, where the oxygen is needed.


 Carries blood away from the heart to the tissues.

 Blood is at high pressure.
 Blood is rich in oxygen, low in carbon dioxide(except in the pulmonary artery)
 Elastic walls expand and relax as blood is forced out of the heart. This causes the pulse that you
can feel if you press an artery against a bone, for example in the wrist.
 Thick walls withstand the high pressure of blood .Rings of muscle can narrow or widen the
artery and control the blood flow in it according to the body’s needs


 Carries blood from the tissues to the heart.

 Blood is at low pressure
 Blood is low in oxygen, high in carbon dioxide (except in the pulmonary vein)
 Valves prevent the backflow of blood. Blood is at a low pressure, but nearby muscles squeeze
the veins and help push blood back towards the heart.
 Large diameter and thin walls reduce resistance to the flow of blood
Materials are exchanged between blood and tissues at the capillaries
Tissue fluid leaves the capillaries

To reach the cells that need them, dissolved substances carried in the blood must leave the
blood vessels and enter the tissues. At the same time, waste materials produced by the tissues
need to enter the blood to be carried away. Dissolved substances move between the blood and
tissues by diffusion across the walls of very fine blood vessels called capillaries. Networks or
beds of capillaries extend through all the tissues, so every body cell is near to a capillary. The
capillary beds are adapted to their function of exchange of substances in a number of ways:

 The walls of the capillaries are only one cell thick-substances do not have very far to diffuse
through them
 The capillaries are highly branched so they cover an enormous surface area, giving more ‘space’
for diffusion to occur
 The capillary beds are constantly supplied with fresh blood, keeping up the concentration
gradients of dissolved substances between blood and tissues. Without these concentration
gradients diffusion would not occur
The heart is the pump for the circulatory system

The heart of a mammal pumps blood through the circulatory system. It provides the pressure that forces
the blood through arteries, capillaries and veins. The pressure is generated by squeezing of the walls of
the heart against the incompressible fluid blood. The heart walls are made of muscle, and the muscle
contracts rhythmically.

A double pump

The heart is divided into two sides, each of which acts as a pump. The right side of the heart pumps
deoxygenated blood coming from the tissues out to the lungs. A much greater pressure (about five
times as much) is needed to force the blood out to the extremities of the body than is needed to drive
blood to the lungs. Because of this, the left side of the heart is much more muscular than the right side.

Even though the two sides of the heart generate different pressures, they work in the same way and
they have the same parts.

Note that:

The atrium receives blood at low pressure from the veins (coming from the lungs or tissues)

The ventricle pumps blood at high pressure out to the arteries (to the lungs or tissues).

Valves make sure that the blood flows in the right direction

The beating of the heart is controlled by a pacemaker

In a healthy person the heart beats about 70 times a minute during normal levels of activity. This rate is
enough to supply blood containing oxygen and nutrients to tissues.

The muscular walls of the heart differ from other muscles in that they never become tired or fatigued,
because each contraction of the heart is immediately followed by relaxation. Even when the heart is
beating its fastest during severe exercise, the period of relaxation allows the muscle to recover so it
does not fatigue.

The pattern of contraction and relaxation is kept going by electrical signals sent from a region of the
heart called the pacemaker. This is a specialized piece of tissue in the wall of the right atrium. It is
sensitive to the swelling of the heart from the main veins. The signals from the pacemaker make sure

 The atria contract just before the ventricles, so the blood flows from the atria to ventricles
 The heartbeat is fast enough to meet the demands of the tissues for oxygen and nutrients, and
for the removal of wastes.

If the pacemaker does not work well as it should, an artificial electronic pacemaker can be fitted inside
the chest.
The concept of blood pressure

Blood pressure

As the ventricles of the heart contract they force blood at high pressure into the arteries.The pressure
needs to carry blood to the working tissues, but it must not be so high that it damages the blood vessels.
Blood pressure can be varied, such as to force more blood to muscles during exercise.The blood
pressure is raised by:

 Making the ventricles contract more powerfully

 Narrowing the diameter of the arteries

Stress or excitement also raises the blood pressure. A diet with too much saturated fat can cause high
blood pressure by clogging up the arteries.

Measuring blood pressure

The blood pressure naturally goes up and down during the heart’s cycles of contraction and relaxation.
The blood pressure is highest when the ventricles contract(systolic pressure) and lowest when the heart
walls are relaxed as blood returns into the atria(diastolic pressure).A person’s blood pressure is
expressed as a fraction, systolic pressure divided by diastolic pressure. A typical healthy young person
would have a blood pressure around 120/80-this means that systolic pressure is 120 mm of mercury and
diastolic pressure is 80 mm of mercury.

The high pressure generated when the ventricles contract forces blood out into the arteries. The elastic
walls of the arteries expand and then relax. This causes a pulse in the arteries.

Blood flow through the veins

The pressure generated by the beating of the heart together with the elastic recoil of the walls of the
arteries, drives the blood out to the tissues. At the capillaries, some of the plasma leaks across the
capillaries, some of the plasma leaks across the capillary walls to form the tissue fluid. As a result of this
the volume of blood in the vessels falls, and so does the pressure. The pressure is no longer great
enough to return the blood to the heart through the veins. How does blood return to the heart?

Coronary heart disease