Chapter: Essentials of Anatomy and Physiology: The Human Organism


Learning Outcomes After reading this section, you should be able to A. Define anatomy and describe the levels at which anatomy can be studied. B. explain the importance of the relationship between structure and function.



Human anatomy and physiology is the study of the structure and function of the human body. The human body has many intricate parts with coordinated functions maintained by a complex system of checks and balances. The coordinated function of all the parts of the human body allows us to detect changes or stimuli, respond to stimuli, and perform many other actions.

            Knowing human anatomy and physiology also provides the basis for understanding disease. The study of human anatomy and physiology is important for students who plan a career in the health sciences because health professionals need a sound knowledge of structure and function in order to perform their duties. In addition, understanding anatomy and physiology pre-pares all of us to evaluate recommended treatments, critically review advertisements and reports in the popular literature, and rationally discuss the human body with health professionals and nonprofessionals.

            Anatomy (ă-nat′ŏ-mē) is the scientific discipline that inves-tigates the structure of the body. The word anatomy means to dissect, or cut apart and separate, the parts of the body for study.

Anatomy covers a wide range of studies, including the structure of body parts, their microscopic organization, and the processes by which they develop. In addition, anatomy examines the relation-ship between the structure of a body part and its function. Just as the structure of a hammer makes it well suited for pounding nails, the structure of body parts allows them to perform specific functions effectively. For example, bones can provide strength and support because bone cells secrete a hard, mineralized substance. Understanding\ the relationship between structure and function makes it easier to understand and appreciate anatomy.

            Two basic approaches to the study of anatomy are systemic anatomy and regional anatomy. Systemic anatomy is the study of the body by systems, such as the cardiovascular, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems. It is the approach taken in this and most introductory textbooks. Regional anatomy is the study of the orga-nization of the body by areas. Within each region, such as the head, abdomen, or arm, all systems are studied simultaneously. This is the approach taken in most medical and dental schools.

            Anatomists have two general ways to examine the internal structures of a living person: surface anatomy and anatomical imaging. Surface anatomy is the study of external features, such as bony projections, which serve as landmarks for locating deeper structures. Anatomical imaging involves the use of x-rays, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imag-ing (MRI), and other technologies to create pictures of internal structures. Both surface anatomy and anatomical imaging provide important information for diagnosing disease.

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