Blood flows from capillaries into venules and then into veins. Some exchange of materials occurs between the interstitial fluid and the venules, just as in capillaries.

Vander et al.: Human Physiology: The Mechanism of Body Function, Eighth Edition



Indeed, permeability to macromolecules is often greater for venules than for capillaries, particularly in damaged areas.

The veins are the last set of tubes through which blood flows on its way back to the heart. In the systemic circulation, the force driving this venous return is the pressure difference between the peripheral veins and the right atrium. The pressure in the first portion of the peripheral veins is generally quite low—only 5 to 10 mmHg—because most of the pressure imparted to the blood by the heart is dissipated by resistance as blood flows through the arterioles, capillaries, and venules. The right atrial pressure is normally approximately 0 mmHg. Therefore, the total driving pressure for flow from the peripheral veins to the right atrium is only 5 to 10 mmHg. This pressure difference is adequate because of the low resistance to flow offered by the veins, which have large diameters. Thus, a major function of the veins is to act as low-resistance conduits for blood flow from the tissue to the heart.

The veins outside the chest, the peripheral veins, contain valves that permit flow only toward the heart. Why are these valves necessary if the pressure gradient created by cardiac contraction pushes blood only toward the heart anyway? The answer will be given below in the section on determinants of venous pressure.

In addition to their function as low-resistance conduits, the veins perform a second important function: Their diameters are reflexly altered in response to changes in blood volume, thereby maintaining peripheral venous pressure and venous return to the heart. In a previous section, we emphasized that the rate of venous return to the heart is a major determinant of end-diastolic ventricular volume and thereby stroke volume. Thus, we now see that peripheral venous pressure is an important determinant of stroke volume.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

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