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Introduction to the Cardiovascular System

The cardiovascular system is sometimes called the blood-vascular, or simply the circulatory, system. It consists of the heart, which is a muscular pumping device, and a closed system of vessels called arteries, veins, and capillaries. As the name implies, blood contained in the circulatory system is pumped by the heart around a closed circle or circuit of vessels as it passes again and again through the various "circulations" of the body.

As in the adult, survival of the developing embryo depends on the circulation of blood to maintain homeostasis and a favorable cellular environment. In response to this need, the cardiovascular system makes its appearance early in development and reaches a functional state long before any other major organ system. Incredible as it seems, the primitive heart begins to beat regularly early in the fourth week following fertilization.

The vital role of the cardiovascular system in maintaining homeostasis depends on the continuous and controlled movement of blood through the thousands of miles of capillaries that permeate every tissue and reach every cell in the body. It is in the microscopic capillaries that blood performs its ultimate transport function. Nutrients and other essential materials pass from capillary blood into fluids surrounding the cells as waste products are removed.

Numerous control mechanisms help to regulate and integrate the diverse functions and component parts of the cardiovascular system in order to supply blood to specific body areas according to need. These mechanisms ensure a constant internal environment surrounding each body cell regardless of differing demands for nutrients or production of waste products.