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Chapter: Medical Physiology: General Principles of Gastrointestinal Function- Motility, Nervous Control, and Blood Circulation

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Nervous Control of Gastrointestinal Blood Flow

Stimulation of the parasympathetic nerves going to the stomach and lower colon increases local blood flow atthe same time that it increases glandular secretion.

Nervous Control of Gastrointestinal Blood Flow

Stimulation of the parasympathetic nerves going to the stomach and lower colon increases local blood flow atthe same time that it increases glandular secretion. This increased flow probably results secondarily from the increased glandular activity and not as a direct effect of the nervous stimulation.

        Sympathetic stimulation, by contrast, has a direct effect on essentially all the gastrointestinal tract to cause intense vasoconstriction of the arterioles with greatly decreased blood flow. After a few minutes of this vasoconstriction, the flow often returns almost to normal by means of a mechanism called “autoregula-tory escape.” That is, the local metabolic vasodilator mechanisms that are elicited by ischemia become pre-potent over the sympathetic vasoconstriction and, therefore, redilate the arterioles, thus causing return of necessary nutrient blood flow to the gastrointestinal glands and muscle.

Importance of Nervous Depression of Gastrointestinal Blood Flow When Other Parts of the Body Need Extra Blood Flow. Amajor value of sympathetic vasoconstriction in the gut is that it allows shut-off of gastrointestinal and other splanchnic blood flow for short periods of time during heavy exercise, when increased flow is needed by the skeletal muscle and heart. Also, in circulatory shock, when all the body’s vital tissues are in danger of cel-lular death for lack of blood flow—especially the brain and the heart—sympathetic stimulation can decrease splanchnic blood flow to very little for many hours.

        Sympathetic stimulation also causes strong vaso-constriction of the large-volume intestinal and mesen-teric veins. This decreases the volume of these veins,thereby displacing large amounts of blood into other parts of the circulation. In hemorrhagic shock or other states of low blood volume, this mechanism can provide as much as 200 to 400 milliliters of extra blood to sustain the general circulation.


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