Pulmonary Circuit: Definition & Pathway

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Robson

Kelly has taught High School Science and Applied Communications. She holds an Education Specialist Degree in Ed. Leadership.

The pulmonary circuit is the path deoxygenated blood takes through the heart to the lungs. This lesson explains the reason for the journey and outlines the path through the pulmonary circuit.

What Goes Through the Pulmonary Circuit?

Cells need energy to perform their vital functions. Through a process known as cellular respiration, cells create adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to use as energy. Cellular respiration requires oxygen, and cells cannot store ATP, so every cell needs a continuous supply of oxygen to create ATP over and over again. Therefore, every cell needs a continuous supply of fresh oxygen.

Red blood cells carry oxygen through the body and deliver it to the cells. They move throughout the body, giving oxygen to cells and taking waste in the form of carbon dioxide out. Red blood cells get rid of the waste and obtain more oxygen as they travel through the pulmonary circuit.

Journey Through the Pulmonary Circuit

Let's look at the pulmonary circuit through the eyes of a blood cell. For this example, we'll call the blood cell 'Red.' We'll start this journey when Red returns home from a very hard day at work. Red's job is very important. He spends the whole day giving away oxygen and collecting carbon dioxide from other cells throughout the body. When he returns home, he is very low in oxygen, or deoxygenated.

As a deoxygenated blood cell, Red travels through either the superior vena cava or the inferior vena cava. Don't worry, both vena cavas are fine to travel through; superior just means the one on top and inferior is the one on the bottom. These vena cavas function like water slides, and Red and his friends can choose which slide they would like to travel down. The vena cavas are a one-way tunnel to the right atrium. The right atrium is the first holding tank near the top of the heart. Many other deoxygenated blood cells meet Red in the right atrium until it is full.

Once full, the right atrium contracts, sending Red and all of the other deoxygenated blood through the atrioventricular valve (AV). The AV is another one-way valve that closes at the opening so the blood cannot flow back. The AV is also known as the tricuspid valve due to the three flaps in its structure. All the blood brothers flow through the AV (another slide, like the vena cavas) and into the right ventricle, the second holding tank.

The right ventricle contracts, sending Red and the rest of the gang to the pulmonary arteries. Red is finally getting close to becoming re-oxygenated. The pulmonary arteries take Red to the lungs. The arteries branch off into millions of pulmonary capillaries. Finally, Red is able to release the carbon dioxide waste into the lungs to be exhaled out of the body. Red also collects the oxygen to be delivered on the next trip through the body.

Now, Red and the other oxygenated blood travel through the two pulmonary veins back to the left side of the heart. Here, they will fill the left atrium and begin their journey through the systemic circuit. It is on their journey through the systemic circuit that they will deliver much-needed oxygen to the other cells in the body and retrieve waste in the form of CO2.

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