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16.4: Maintaining Homeostasis

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    Learning Objectives
    • Explain how different organ systems relate to one another to maintain homeostasis

    Each organ system performs specific functions for the body, and each organ system is typically studied independently. However, the organ systems also work together to help the body maintain homeostasis.

    Water Levels

    For example, the cardiovascular, urinary, and lymphatic systems all help the body control water balance. The cardiovascular and lymphatic systems transport fluids throughout the body and help sense both solute and water levels and regulate pressure. If the water level gets too high, the urinary system produces more dilute urine (urine with a higher water content) to help eliminate the excess water. If the water level gets too low, more concentrated urine is produced so that water is conserved.

    Internal Temperatures

    Similarly, the cardiovascular, integumentary (skin and associated structures), respiratory, and muscular systems work together to help the body maintain a stable internal temperature. If body temperature rises, blood vessels in the skin dilate, allowing more blood to flow near the skin’s surface. This allows heat to dissipate through the skin and into the surrounding air. The skin may also produce sweat if the body gets too hot; when the sweat evaporates, it helps to cool the body. Rapid breathing can also help the body eliminate excess heat. Together, these responses to increased body temperature explain why you sweat, pant, and become red in the face when you exercise hard. (Heavy breathing during exercise is also one way the body gets more oxygen to your muscles, and gets rid of the extra carbon dioxide produced by the muscles.)

    Conversely, if your body is too cold, blood vessels in the skin contract, and blood flow to the extremities (arms and legs) slows. Muscles contract and relax rapidly, which generates heat to keep you warm. The hair on your skin rises, trapping more air, which is a good insulator, near your skin. These responses to decreased body temperature explain why you shiver, get “goose bumps,” and have cold, pale extremities when you are cold.

    Case Study: Fevers

    So what happens when you have a fever? Does this mean your body is unable to maintain its homeostasis, in the same way your house will get too hot if your air conditioner is broken?

    In extreme cases, a fever can be a medical emergency; but fever is an adaptive physiological response of our body to certain infectious agents. Certain chemicals called pyrogens will trigger your hypothalamus to shift the set point to a higher value. This is more like you programming the thermostat in your house to a higher temperature to save energy on a hot day when you are not going to be home during the day. These pyrogens can come from microorganisms that infect you, or they can be produced by your body cells in response to an infection of some sort.

    Practice Questions

    1. [reveal-answer q=”163634″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”163634″] Option b is correct. The increase in pyrogen chemicals in the blood is stimulating the receptors that reset the upper temperature limit for a febrile response. Temperature is the variable during normal body temperature regulation, but not in this scenario. The blood carries the chemical that is stimulating the febrile response, but the heart rate won’t directly stimulate this receptor. The blood carries the chemical that is stimulating the febrile response, but the blood pressure won’t directly stimulate this receptor.[/hidden-answer]
    2. [reveal-answer q=”542016″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”542016″]Answer d is correct. The hypothalamus is the control center for both normal body temperature homeostasis and febrile response.The skeletal muscle, sweat glands, and blood vessels are are all effectors.[/hidden-answer]
    3. [reveal-answer q=”277548″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”277548″]Option b is correct. This would increase the body temperature. Option a would decrease the body temperature.


    Although the evidence is only indirect, fever is believed to enhance the body’s immune response. The increased temperature may actually impair the replication of infecting bacteria and viruses that are adapted to survive best at your normal homeostatic body temperature range. This can give your immune cells a chance to destroy the microorganisms before they can rapidly multiply and spread in the body. There is also some indirect evidence that increased body temperature slightly modifies several metabolic reactions in ways that also allow the immune system to function more efficiently.

    Practice Questions

    1. [reveal-answer q=”413091″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”413091″]Option d is correct. The hypothalamus is the control center for both normal body temperature homeostasis and febrile response. Muscles, sweat glands, and blood vessels are effectors; they do not serve as a control center.


    2. [reveal-answer q=”81873″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”81873″]Option a is correct. This will cool the body. Option b would warm the body.


    Unfortunately during some infections, pyrogen levels come in “waves.” This adjusts your temperature set point up and down. When pyrogen levels dip, you get the other part of the fever experience: “the sweats” and feeling flushed. As long as the pyrogen levels continue to increase and decrease you will feel like you are swinging back and forth.

    Practice Question

    1. [reveal-answer q=”873207″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”873207″]Option c is correct. The hypothalamus is still the control center that responds to a stimulus from some type of receptor. Thermoreceptors and chemoreceptors stimulate the control center in response to a change in the variable they monitor, in this case body temperature.[/hidden-answer]

    Your body will continue to swing back and forth between the body’s normal upper and lower temperature limits, but because it is now within your “normal” temperature range, you probably won’t even notice that your body is still at work, maintaining the homoeostasis of this variable.

    Practice Question

    1. [reveal-answer q=”523682″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”523682″]Option c is correct. Thermoreceptors are located throughout the body, so it is unlikely an operation would directly damage all the receptors. All other options could be a cause of post-operative fever.[/hidden-answer]

    Homeostasis of Ions

    Body functions such as regulation of the heartbeat, contraction of muscles, activation of enzymes, and cellular communication require tightly regulated calcium levels. Normally, we get a lot of calcium from our diet. The small intestine absorbs calcium from digested food.

    The endocrine system is the control center for regulating blood calcium homeostasis. The parathyroid and thyroid glands contain receptors that respond to levels of calcium in the blood. In this feedback system, blood calcium level is the variable, because it changes in response to the environment. Changes in blood calcium level have the following effects:

    • When blood calcium is low, the parathyroid gland secretes parathyroid hormone. This hormone causes effector organs (the kidneys and bones) to respond to increase calcium levels. The kidneys prevent calcium from being excreted in the urine. Osteoclasts in bones reabsorb bone tissue and release calcium.
    • When blood calcium levels are high, the thyroid gland releases calcitonin. Calcitonin causes the kidneys to reabsorb less calcium from the filtrate, allowing excess calcium to be removed from the body in urine. Calcitonin also suppresses the formation of active vitamin D in the kidneys; without vitamin D the small intestines don’t absorb as much dietary calcium. Osteoblasts, stimulated by calcitonin, use calcium in the blood to add to bone tissue.
    Practice Questions

    Based on the above description of calcium homeostasis, try to answer these questions:

    1. [reveal-answer q=”688637″]Show Hint[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”688637″]Here is the completed feedback loop:
      This is a four-part feedback loop. Each part leads to the next. The first part is the calcium levels in the blood. The second is the endocrine system. The third is the endocrine system. The fourth is parathyroid hormone or calcitonin. The loop then returns to the first part (calcium levels in the blood).


      [reveal-answer q=”31679″]Show Answers[/reveal-answer]
      [hidden-answer a=”31679″]

      1. Option d is correct: calcium is the variable. Proper calcium levels are important for many body functions.
      2. Option b is correct: the endocrine system is the receptor. The endocrine system regulates many things.
      3. Option b is correct: the endocrine system is the control center. The endocrine system can both sense and modulate calcium levels. The parathyroid hormone and calcitonin is the effector.
      4. Option c is correct: the parathyroid hormone and calcitonin are the effectors; they alter the function of the kidneys and bones to maintain calcium homeostasis. [/hidden-answer]

    Calcium imbalance in the blood can lead to disease or even death. Hypocalcemia refers to low blood calcium levels. Signs of hypocalcemia include muscle spasms and heart malfunctions. Hypercalcemia occurs when blood calcium levels are higher than normal. Hypercalcemia can also cause heart malfunction as well as muscle weakness and kidney stones.

    Practice Question

    What problem(s) is/are associated with calcium homeostasis dysfunction?

    1. heart disease
    2. bone disease
    3. both
    4. neither

    [reveal-answer q=”477121″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
    [hidden-answer a=”477121″]Option c is correct. The heart is often affected by large short-term calcium changes, and bones are often affected by small long-term calcium changes. Calcium homeostasis dysfunction can also affect muscle function and can result in the formation of kidney stones.[/hidden-answer]

    Watch this video for another discussion on homeostasis and organ systems:

    A link to an interactive elements can be found at the bottom of this page.

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