In basic biology and anatomy classes, we learn about the arteries, veins, and capillaries. Very seldom do we talk about the lymphatic system and its many important roles. Every vessel in the body has a role and damage to that area could have many consequences.
A question plagues many scientists and doctors for many years. Considering the effects of gravity and all the fluid in our bodies, why doesn’t the lower half increase in size by the end of the day? The answer to that question is the lymphatic system. Unlike the venous and arterial system, the lymphatic system works on its own, forming a one-way street from all areas of the body towards the heart via the subclavian veins. The lymphatic system also has capillaries that lead to larger lymphatic vessels, eventually joining at the center of the body.
The lymphatic vessels are larger than the venous vessels enabling them to carry the vast majority of fluid in the body back towards the heart. The lymphatic system will also transport long-chain fatty acids, proteins, macro-nutrients, debris and immune by-products such as viruses and bacteria as the lymphatic system is responsible for a portion of the body’s immune response.
Joining lymphatic vessels are lymph nodes that look like little beans. The lymph nodes will filter the lymph (fluid) distributing products that are useful for the body to the arteries that are attached to the nodes, and debris through the veins. The nodes will also quarantine viruses, bacteria and some forms of cancer, trying to stop them from attacking the whole body. We rarely discuss the lymphatic system, but it is one of the most important systems in our bodies.
The left ventricle feeds the aorta which is the largest artery in the body. From the aorta, arteries will branch off, sending oxygenated blood all over the body going from arteries to arterioles then to capillaries. The only arteries in the body that carry deoxygenated blood are the pulmonary arteries, they bring blood from the heart to the lungs to be oxygenated. So, the true definition of an artery is a vessel that brings blood away from the heart. The blood will carry oxygen, nutrients, medications, fluid for hydration and various naturally occurring chemicals that are needed for the body to function. Because of the need to propel blood all over the body, arteries generally have stronger muscles around the vessels for proper blood flow.
Veins, in general, carry blood back to the heart, in most instances, it is deoxygenated blood. The only veins that transport oxygenated blood are the pulmonary veins as they transport the blood that the lungs have oxygenated from the lungs back to the heart. It was previously thought that the capillaries, venules, veins and vena cava were responsible for the transport of all the blood, fluids, debris, left-over nutrients and other chemicals in the body, but it was found that the venous system is too small and isn’t effective enough to transport all those products. Veins and venules have less to no musculature compared to the arterial system because most of the venous return is passive, using the pressure from the few muscles around the veins, the pump from skeletal muscles and valves to propel the blood. The venous and arterial systems form a circuit, the capillaries being the point of connection between the two.
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