Of the vessels, the arteries carry blood away from the heart; the main arterial vessel, the aorta, branches into smaller arteries, which in turn branch repeatedly into still smaller vessels and reach all parts of the body. Within the body tissues, the vessels are microscopic capillaries through which gas and nutrient exchange occurs (see respiration). Blood leaving the tissue capillaries enters converging vessels, the veins, to return to the heart and lungs. The human heart is a four-chambered organ with a dividing wall, or septum, that separates it into a right heart for pumping blood from the returning veins into the lungs and a left heart for pumping blood from the lungs to the body via the aorta.
An auxiliary system, the lymphatic system, is composed of vessels that collect lymph from body tissues. Carried to converging vessels of increasing size, the lymph enters the thoracic duct and is emptied into a large vein near the heart.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.