The microcirculation is an extensive network of microvessels that distributes blood flow throughout living tissues. Reynolds numbers are much less than 1, and the equations of Stokes flow apply. Blood is a suspension of cells with dimensions comparable to microvessel diameters. Highly deformable red blood cells, which transport oxygen, have a volume concentration (hematocrit) of 40–45% in humans. In the narrowest capillaries, these cells move in single file with a surrounding lubricating layer of plasma. In larger vessels, the red blood cells migrate toward the centerline, reducing the resistance to blood flow. Vessel walls are coated with a layer of macromolecules that restricts flow. At diverging bifurcations, hematocrit is not evenly distributed in the downstream vessels. Other particles are driven toward the walls by interactions with red blood cells. These physiologically important phenomena are discussed here from a fluid mechanical perspective.


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