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Chapter: Medical Physiology: Red Blood Cells, Anemia, and Polycythemia

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Effects of Anemia on Function of the Circulatory System

The viscosity of the blood, depends almost entirely on the blood concentration of red blood cells.

Effects of Anemia on Function of the Circulatory System

The viscosity of the blood, depends almost entirely on the blood concentration of red blood cells. In severe anemia, the blood viscosity may fall to as low as 1.5 times that of water rather than the normal value of about 3. This decreases the resistance to blood flow in the periph-eral blood vessels, so that far greater than normal quantities of blood flow through the tissues and return to the heart, thereby greatly increasing cardiac output. Moreover, hypoxia resulting from diminished trans-port of oxygen by the blood causes the peripheral tissue blood vessels to dilate, allowing a further increase in the return of blood to the heart and increasing the cardiac output to a still higher level— sometimes three to four times normal. Thus, one of the major effects of anemia is greatly increased cardiacoutput, as well as increased pumping workload on the heart.

The increased cardiac output in anemia partially offsets the reduced oxygen-carrying effect of the anemia, because even though each unit quantity of blood carries only small quantities of oxygen, the rate of blood flow may be increased enough so that almost normal quantities of oxygen are actually delivered to the tissues. However, when a person with anemia begins to exercise, the heart is not capable of pumping much greater quantities of blood than it is already pumping. Consequently, during exercise, which greatly increases tissue demand for oxygen, extreme tissue hypoxia results, and acute cardiac failure ensues.


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