- Identify the primary functions of blood, its fluid and cellular components, and its physical characteristics
- Describe the formation of the formed element components of blood
- Discuss the structure and function of red blood cells and hemoglobin
- Classify and characterize white blood cells
- Describe the structure of platelets and explain the process of hemostasis
- Explain the significance of AB and Rh blood groups in blood transfusions
- Discuss a variety of blood disorders
Single-celled organisms do not need blood. They obtain nutrients directly from and excrete wastes directly into their environment. The human organism cannot do that. Our large, complex bodies need blood to deliver nutrients to and remove wastes from our trillions of cells. The heart pumps blood throughout the body in a network of blood vessels. Together, these three components—blood, heart, and vessels—makes up the cardiovascular system. This chapter focuses on the medium of transport: blood.
Functions of Blood
Blood has three main functions: transport, protection / defense, and regulation.
Transport: Blood transports the following substances:
- Gases, namely oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2), between the lungs and rest of the body
- Nutrients from the digestive tract and storage sites to the rest of the body
- Waste products to be detoxified or removed by the liver and kidneys
- Hormones from the glands in which they are produced to their target cells
Protection: Blood has several roles in inflammation:
- Leukocytes, or white blood cells, destroy invading microorganisms and cancer cells and defend our body.
- Antibodies and other proteins destroy pathogenic substances
- Platelet factors initiate blood clotting and protects the body from further blood loss.
Regulation: Blood plays an important role in regulating the body’s systems and maintaining homeostasis. Blood helps regulate:
- Blood also helps to maintain the chemical balance of the body. Proteins and other compounds in blood act as buffers, which thereby help to regulate the pH of body tissues. Blood also helps to regulate the water content of body cells.
- Water balance by transferring water to and from tissues
- Regulating core body temperature – Our body temperature is regulated via a classic negative-feedback loop. If you were exercising on a warm day, your rising core body temperature would trigger several homeostatic mechanisms, including increased transport of blood from your core to your body periphery, which is typically cooler. As blood passes through the vessels of the skin, heat would be dissipated to the environment, and the blood returning to your body core would be cooler. In contrast, on a cold day, blood is diverted away from the skin to maintain a warmer body core. In extreme cases, this may result in frostbite.
Composition of Blood
Blood is a type of connective tissue. Like all connective tissues, it is made up of cellular elements and an extracellular matrix. The cellular elements—referred to as the formed elements—include red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and cell fragments called platelets. The extracellular matrix, called plasma, makes blood unique among connective tissues because it is fluid. This fluid, which is mostly water, perpetually suspends the formed elements and enables them to circulate throughout the body within the cardiovascular system.
A hematocrit, measures the percentage of RBCs, clinically known as erythrocytes, in a blood sample. It is performed by spinning the blood sample in a specialized centrifuge, a process that causes the heavier elements suspended within the blood sample to separate from the lightweight, liquid plasma. Because the heaviest elements in blood are the erythrocytes, these settle at the very bottom of the hematocrit tube. Located above the erythrocytes is a pale, thin layer composed of the remaining formed elements of blood. These are the WBCs, clinically known as leukocytes, and the platelets, cell fragments also called thrombocytes. This layer is referred to as the buffy coat because of its color; it normally constitutes less than 1 percent of a blood sample. Above the buffy coat is the blood plasma, normally a pale, straw-colored fluid, which constitutes the remainder of the sample.
The volume of erythrocytes after centrifugation is also commonly referred to as packed cell volume (PCV). In normal blood, about 45 percent of a sample is erythrocytes. The hematocrit of any one sample can vary significantly, however, about 36–50 percent, according to gender and other factors. Normal hematocrit values for females range from 37 to 47, with a mean value of 41; for males, hematocrit ranges from 42 to 52, with a mean of 47. The percentage of other formed elements, the WBCs and platelets, is extremely small so it is not normally considered with the hematocrit. So the mean plasma percentage is the percent of blood that is not erythrocytes: for females, it is approximately 59 (or 100 minus 41), and for males, it is approximately 53 (or 100 minus 47).
Characteristics of Blood
When you think about blood, the first characteristic that probably comes to mind is its color. Blood that has just taken up oxygen in the lungs is bright red, and blood that has released oxygen in the tissues is a more dusky red. This is because hemoglobin is a pigment that changes color, depending upon the degree of oxygen saturation.
Blood is viscous and somewhat sticky to the touch. It has a viscosity approximately five times greater than water. Viscosity is a measure of a fluid’s thickness or resistance to flow, and is influenced by the presence of the plasma proteins and formed elements within the blood. The viscosity of blood has a dramatic impact on blood pressure and flow. Consider the difference in flow between water and honey. The more viscous honey would demonstrate a greater resistance to flow than the less viscous water. The same principle applies to blood.
The normal temperature of blood is slightly higher than normal body temperature—about 38 °C (or 100.4 °F), compared to 37 °C (or 98.6 °F) for an internal body temperature reading, although daily variations of 0.5 °C are normal. Although the surface of blood vessels is relatively smooth, as blood flows through them, it experiences some friction and resistance, especially as vessels age and lose their elasticity, thereby producing heat. This accounts for its slightly higher temperature.
The pH of blood averages about 7.4; however, it can range from 7.35 to 7.45 in a healthy person. Blood is therefore somewhat more basic (alkaline) on a chemical scale than pure water, which has a pH of 7.0. Blood contains numerous buffers that actually help to regulate pH.
Blood constitutes approximately 8 percent of adult body weight. Adult males typically average about 5 to 6 liters of blood. Females average 4–5 liters.
Like other fluids in the body, plasma is composed primarily of water: In fact, it is about 92 percent water. Dissolved or suspended within this water is a mixture of substances, most of which are proteins. There are literally hundreds of substances dissolved or suspended in the plasma, although many of them are found only in very small quantities.
The three major groups of plasma proteins are as follows:
- Albuminis the most abundant of the plasma proteins. Manufactured by the liver, albumin molecules serve as binding proteins—transport vehicles for fatty acids and steroid hormones. Albumin is also the most significant contributor to the osmotic pressure of blood; that is, its presence holds water inside the blood vessels and draws water from the tissues, across blood vessel walls, and into the bloodstream. This in turn helps to maintain both blood volume and blood pressure. Albumin normally accounts for approximately 54 percent of the total plasma protein content, in clinical levels of 3.5–5.0 g/dL blood.
- The second most common plasma proteins are the globulins. A heterogeneous group, there are three main subgroups known as alpha, beta, and gamma globulins. The alpha and beta globulins transport iron, lipids, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to the cells; like albumin, they also contribute to osmotic pressure. Globulins make up approximately 38 percent of the total plasma protein volume, in clinical levels of 1.0–1.5 g/dL blood.
- The least abundant plasma protein is fibrinogen. Like albumin and the alpha and beta globulins, fibrinogen is produced by the liver. It is essential for blood clotting, a process described later in this chapter. Fibrinogen accounts for about 7 percent of the total plasma protein volume, in clinical levels of 0.2–0.45 g/dL blood.
CAREER CONNECTION:Phlebotomy and medical lab technology
Phlebotomists are professionals trained to draw blood (phleb- = “a blood vessel”; -tomy = “to cut”). When more than a few drops of blood are required, phlebotomists perform a venipuncture, typically of a surface vein in the arm. They perform a capillary stick on a finger, an earlobe, or the heel of an infant when only a small quantity of blood is required. An arterial stick is collected from an artery and used to analyze blood gases. After collection, the blood may be analyzed by medical laboratories or perhaps used for transfusions, donations, or research. While many allied health professionals practice phlebotomy, the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians issues certificates to individuals passing a national examination, and some large labs and hospitals hire individuals expressly for their skill in phlebotomy.
Medical or clinical laboratories employ a variety of individuals in technical positions:
- Medical technologists (MT), also known as clinical laboratory technologists (CLT), typically hold a bachelor’s degree and certification from an accredited training program. They perform a wide variety of tests on various body fluids, including blood. The information they provide is essential to the primary care providers in determining a diagnosis and in monitoring the course of a disease and response to treatment.
- Medical laboratory technicians (MLT) typically have an associate’s degree but may perform duties similar to those of an MT.
- Medical laboratory assistants (MLA) spend the majority of their time processing samples and carrying out routine assignments within the lab. Clinical training is required, but a degree may not be essential to obtaining a position.