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Pulmonary circulation

Recall that blood returning from the systemic circuit enters the right atrium ( [link] ) via the superior and inferior venae cavae and the coronary sinus, which drains the blood supply of the heart muscle. These vessels will be described more fully later in this section. This blood is relatively low in oxygen and relatively high in carbon dioxide, since much of the oxygen has been extracted for use by the tissues and the waste gas carbon dioxide was picked up to be transported to the lungs for elimination. From the right atrium, blood moves into the right ventricle, which pumps it to the lungs for gas exchange. This system of vessels is referred to as the pulmonary circuit    .

The single vessel exiting the right ventricle is the pulmonary trunk    . At the base of the pulmonary trunk is the pulmonary semilunar valve, which prevents backflow of blood into the right ventricle during ventricular diastole. As the pulmonary trunk reaches the superior surface of the heart, it curves posteriorly and rapidly bifurcates (divides) into two branches, a left and a right pulmonary artery    . To prevent confusion between these vessels, it is important to refer to the vessel exiting the heart as the pulmonary trunk, rather than also calling it a pulmonary artery. The pulmonary arteries in turn branch many times within the lung, forming a series of smaller arteries and arterioles that eventually lead to the pulmonary capillaries. The pulmonary capillaries surround lung structures known as alveoli that are the sites of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange.

Once gas exchange is completed, oxygenated blood flows from the pulmonary capillaries into a series of pulmonary venules that eventually lead to a series of larger pulmonary veins    . Four pulmonary veins, two on the left and two on the right, return blood to the left atrium. At this point, the pulmonary circuit is complete. [link] defines the major arteries and veins of the pulmonary circuit discussed in the text.

Pulmonary circuit

This diagram shows the network of blood vessels in the lungs.
Blood exiting from the right ventricle flows into the pulmonary trunk, which bifurcates into the two pulmonary arteries. These vessels branch to supply blood to the pulmonary capillaries, where gas exchange occurs within the lung alveoli. Blood returns via the pulmonary veins to the left atrium.
Pulmonary Arteries and Veins
Vessel Description
Pulmonary trunk Single large vessel exiting the right ventricle that divides to form the right and left pulmonary arteries
Pulmonary arteries Left and right vessels that form from the pulmonary trunk and lead to smaller arterioles and eventually to the pulmonary capillaries
Pulmonary veins Two sets of paired vessels—one pair on each side—that are formed from the small venules, leading away from the pulmonary capillaries to flow into the left atrium

Overview of systemic arteries

Blood relatively high in oxygen concentration is returned from the pulmonary circuit to the left atrium via the four pulmonary veins. From the left atrium, blood moves into the left ventricle, which pumps blood into the aorta. The aorta and its branches—the systemic arteries—send blood to virtually every organ of the body ( [link] ).

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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