The Human Body

Respiratory System

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Respiratory System, in anatomy and physiology, organs that deliver oxygen to the circulatory system for transport to all body cells. Oxygen is essential for cells, which use this vital substance to liberate the energy needed for cellular activities. In addition to supplying oxygen, the respiratory system aids in removing of carbon dioxide, preventing the lethal buildup of this waste product in body tissues. Day-in and day-out, without the prompt of conscious thought, the respiratory system carries out its life-sustaining activities. If the respiratory system’s tasks are interrupted for more than a few minutes, serious, irreversible damage to tissues occurs, followed by the failure of all body systems, and ultimately, death.

While the intake of oxygen and removal of carbon dioxide are the primary functions of the respiratory system, it plays other important roles in the body. The respiratory system helps regulate the balance of acid and base in tissues, a process crucial for the normal functioning of cells. It protects the body against disease-causing organisms and toxic substances inhaled with air. The respiratory system also houses the cells that detect smell, and assists in the production of sounds for speech.

The respiratory and circulatory systems work together to deliver oxygen to cells and remove carbon dioxide in a two-phase process called respiration. The first phase of respiration begins with breathing in, or inhalation. Inhalation brings air from outside the body into the lungs. Oxygen in the air moves from the lungs through blood vessels to the heart, which pumps the oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body. Oxygen then moves from the bloodstream into cells, which completes the first phase of respiration. In the cells, oxygen is used in a separate energy-producing process called cellular respiration, which produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct. The second phase of respiration begins with the movement of carbon dioxide from the cells to the bloodstream. The bloodstream carries carbon dioxide to the heart, which pumps the carbon dioxide-laden blood to the lungs. In the lungs, breathing out, or exhalation, removes carbon dioxide from the body, thus completing the respiration cycle.

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Related topic: Respiratory Systems in Other Animals