Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android. Learn more here!


This chapter reviews the normal structure and function of the vascular component of the cardiovascular system and then considers the pathophysiology of three common conditions frequently seen by practicing physicians: atherosclerosis, hypertension, and shock.



The blood vessels are a closed system of conduits that carry blood from the heart to the tissues and back to the heart. All of the blood flows through the lungs, but the systemic circulation is made up of many different circuits in parallel (Figure 11–1). This permits wide variation in regional systemic blood flow without changing the total systemic flow.


Diagram of circulation in the adult. (GI, gastrointestinal.) (Redrawn, with permission, from Barrett KE et al, eds. Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology, 25th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2016.)

Figure 11–2 summarizes the characteristics of the various types of blood vessels in humans. Note that as the diameter of the vessels decreases, their number in the body increases so that the total cross-sectional area increases.


Characteristics of systemic blood vessels. Cross-sections of the vessels are not drawn to scale because of the huge range in size from aorta and vena cava to capillaries. (Redrawn from Burton AC. Relation of structure to function of the tissues of the wall of blood vessels. Physiol Rev. 1954;34:619.)

All blood vessels are lined by a single layer of endothelial cells. Collectively, the endothelial cells constitute a remarkable organ that secretes substances that affect the diameter of the vessels and provide for their growth, their repair when injured, and the formation of new vessels that carry blood to growing tissues.

Arterial Vessels

The aorta, the large arteries, and the arterioles are made up of an outer layer of connective tissue, the adventitia; a middle layer of smooth muscle, the media; and an inner layer, the intima, containing the layer of endothelial cells and some subendothelial connective tissue. The walls of the aorta and the large arteries contain abundant elastic tissue, much of it concentrated in the internal elastic lamina, a prominent band between the intima and the media, and another band, the external elastic lamina, between the media and the adventitia (Figure 11–3). The vessels are stretched by the force of cardiac ejection during systole, and the elastic tissue permits them to recoil during diastole. This maintains diastolic pressure and aids the forward motion of the blood. The walls of the arterioles contain less elastic tissue than the arteries but proportionately more smooth muscle (see Figure 11–2). The muscle is extensively innervated by noradrenergic nerve fibers, which are constrictor in ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.