As the heart pumps, the arteries carry oxygen-rich blood (shown in red) away from the heart and toward the body’s tissues and vital organs. These include the brain, liver, kidneys, stomach, and muscles, including the heart muscle itself. At the same time, the veins carry oxygen-poor blood (shown in blue) from the tissues back toward the heart. From there, it passes to the lungs to receive more oxygen. This cycle repeats itself when oxygen-rich blood returns to the heart from the lungs, which pumps it throughout the body.
Update Date 9/4/2012
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.