We are all aware of the arterial and venous systems. Arteries take the oxygenated blood from the heart to the organs and the veins take the blood back to the lungs to unload the carbon dioxide and reload oxygen to be taken back to the organs. In addition to the arterial and venous vascular systems, we also have the lymphatic channels that flow into the lymphatic system.
The Lymphatic channels and system may be new to some, however, it is the third vascular network that is much less defined. The Lymphatic system collects fluids that has left the artierial/venous vascular system along their travel outlined above and take it back to the venous system. The lymphatic vessels transport this fluid to the lymph nodes throughout the body where the nodes filter the fluid of bacteria and harmful substances. Eventually, the fluid makes it way back to the venous system via the Superior Vena Cava. Additionally, Lymphatics collect the lipids within the GI tract and transport them to the venous system for metabolism. Most of the time these serosal lymphatic vessels are very small and hard to notice on the bowel.
Example of Lymphatic channels
The following image is in a patient who had small bowel obstruction. The obstruction had resulted in vascular congestion at the base of the mesentery. The congestion had effected the low pressure system of the veins and the lymphatics disproportionately more that the arterial system. The white-milky tubular structures are the lymphatic channels filled with lipids.
There are three layers to the small intestinal lymphatic system, in the villi, submucosal and serosal layers and has the unique ability to transport absorbed intra-lumenal nutrients. There is a need for further research in the areas of health, obesity and disease in regards to the lymphatic system.