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Introduction

What do blood vessels have to do with my breathing?

The blood vessels in the lungs -- the pulmonary arteries, capillaries, and pulmonary veins -- are all essential to how the lung works. As discussed in the section on how the heart and lungs are connected, the pulmonary arteries carry the blood that has been pumped from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The capillaries are the thin-walled blood vessels that are directly adjacent to the lungs' tiny air sacs (alveoli). Oxygen, from the air you breathe, passes from the alveoli into the blood in the pulmonary capillaries. The capillaries drain into the pulmonary veins. The pulmonary veins are the blood vessels that carry the blood that has been fully loaded up with oxygen back to the left side of the heart so that it can be pumped out to the rest of your body.


Now let's consider things from the point of view of carbon dioxide rather than oxygen. The blood that returns from the all the parts of the body to the right side of the heart is low in oxygen content, but it has picked up a large amount of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is also a gas and it is the byproduct or waste produced by working muscles and tissues. This blood with high concentrations of carbon dioxide passes from the right ventricle into the pulmonary arteries, and then into the capillaries. Similar to oxygen passing from the alveoli into the blood, carbon dioxide is released from the blood into the alveoli so that it can be exhaled with the next breath.


If you think of the blood vessels as a series of interconnected pipes, you can understand that any sort of narrowing, blockage, or destruction of these pipes would make it harder to pump the blood into and out of the lungs. The blood is carrying the oxygen which is the fuel the cells throughout your body need in order to function correctly. Any problem with either the pumping mechanism (heart) or the series of interconnected pipes (blood vessels) going into or out of the lungs may have direct consequences on your breathing.