Blood vessel

The blood vessels are the components of the circulatory system that transport blood throughout the human body. These vessels transport blood cells, nutrients, and oxygen to the tissues of the body. They also take waste and carbon dioxide away from the tissues. Blood vessels are needed to sustain life, because all of the body’s tissues rely on their functionality.

There are five types of blood vessels: the arteries, which carry the blood away from the heart; the arterioles; the capillaries, where the exchange of water and chemicals between the blood and the tissues occurs; the venules; and the veins, which carry blood from the capillaries back towards the heart.

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%. (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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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