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Biology LibreTexts

40: The Circulatory System

Most animals are complex multicellular organisms that require a mechanism for transporting nutrients throughout their bodies and removing waste products. The circulatory system has evolved over time from simple diffusion through cells in the early evolution of animals to a complex network of blood vessels that reach all parts of the human body. This extensive network supplies the cells, tissues, and organs with oxygen and nutrients, and removes carbon dioxide and waste, which are byproducts of respiration.

  • 40.0: Prelude to the Circulatory System
    Gas exchange is one essential function of the circulatory system. A circulatory system is not needed in organisms with no specialized respiratory organs because oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse directly between their body tissues and the external environment. However, in organisms that possess lungs and gills, oxygen must be transported from these specialized respiratory organs to the body tissues via a circulatory system.
  • 40.1: Overview of the Circulatory System
    In all animals, except a few simple types, the circulatory system is used to transport nutrients and gases through the body. Simple diffusion allows some water, nutrient, waste, and gas exchange into primitive animals that are only a few cell layers thick; however, bulk flow is the only method by which the entire body of larger more complex organisms is accessed.
  • 40.2: Components of the Blood
    Blood is the liquid that moves through the vessels and includes plasma (the liquid portion, which contains water, proteins, salts, lipids, and glucose) and the cells (red and white cells) and cell fragments called platelets. Blood plasma is actually the dominant component of blood and contains the water, proteins, electrolytes, lipids, and glucose. The cells are responsible for carrying the gases (red cells) and immune the response (white). The platelets are responsible for blood clotting.
  • 40.3: Mammalian Heart and Blood Vessels
    The heart is a complex muscle that pumps blood through the three divisions of the circulatory system: the coronary (vessels that serve the heart), pulmonary (heart and lungs), and systemic (systems of the body). Coronary circulation intrinsic to the heart takes blood directly from the main artery (aorta) coming from the heart.
  • 40.4: Blood Flow and Blood Pressure Regulation
    Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by blood on the walls of a blood vessel that helps to push blood through the body. Systolic blood pressure measures the amount of pressure that blood exerts on vessels while the heart is beating. The optimal systolic blood pressure is 120 mmHg. Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in the vessels between heartbeats. The optimal diastolic blood pressure is 80 mmHg.
  • 40.E: The Circulatory System (Exercises)


  • Connie Rye (East Mississippi Community College), Robert Wise (University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh), Vladimir Jurukovski (Suffolk County Community College), Jean DeSaix (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Jung Choi (Georgia Institute of Technology), Yael Avissar (Rhode Island College) among other contributing authors. The OpenStax College name, OpenStax College logo, OpenStax College book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the creative commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University. For questions regarding this license, please contact Download for free at