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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the three mechanisms involved in hemostasis
  • Explain how the extrinsic and intrinsic coagulation pathways lead to the common pathway, and the coagulation factors involved in each
  • Discuss disorders affecting hemostasis

Platelets are key players in hemostasis    , the process by which the body seals a ruptured blood vessel and prevents further loss of blood. Although rupture of larger vessels usually requires medical intervention, hemostasis is quite effective in dealing with small, simple wounds. There are three steps to the process: vascular spasm, the formation of a platelet plug, and coagulation (blood clotting). Failure of any of these steps will result in hemorrhage    —excessive bleeding.

Vascular spasm

When a vessel is severed or punctured, or when the wall of a vessel is damaged, vascular spasm occurs. In vascular spasm    , the smooth muscle in the walls of the vessel contracts dramatically. This smooth muscle has both circular layers; larger vessels also have longitudinal layers. The circular layers tend to constrict the flow of blood, whereas the longitudinal layers, when present, draw the vessel back into the surrounding tissue, often making it more difficult for a surgeon to locate, clamp, and tie off a severed vessel. The vascular spasm response is believed to be triggered by several chemicals called endothelins that are released by vessel-lining cells and by pain receptors in response to vessel injury. This phenomenon typically lasts for up to 30 minutes, although it can last for hours.

Formation of the platelet plug

In the second step, platelets, which normally float free in the plasma, encounter the area of vessel rupture with the exposed underlying connective tissue and collagenous fibers. The platelets begin to clump together, become spiked and sticky, and bind to the exposed collagen and endothelial lining. This process is assisted by a glycoprotein in the blood plasma called von Willebrand factor, which helps stabilize the growing platelet plug    . As platelets collect, they simultaneously release chemicals from their granules into the plasma that further contribute to hemostasis. Among the substances released by the platelets are:

  • adenosine diphosphate (ADP), which helps additional platelets to adhere to the injury site, reinforcing and expanding the platelet plug
  • serotonin, which maintains vasoconstriction
  • prostaglandins and phospholipids, which also maintain vasoconstriction and help to activate further clotting chemicals, as discussed next

A platelet plug can temporarily seal a small opening in a blood vessel. Plug formation, in essence, buys the body time while more sophisticated and durable repairs are being made. In a similar manner, even modern naval warships still carry an assortment of wooden plugs to temporarily repair small breaches in their hulls until permanent repairs can be made.


Those more sophisticated and more durable repairs are collectively called coagulation    , the formation of a blood clot. The process is sometimes characterized as a cascade, because one event prompts the next as in a multi-level waterfall. The result is the production of a gelatinous but robust clot made up of a mesh of fibrin    —an insoluble filamentous protein derived from fibrinogen, the plasma protein introduced earlier—in which platelets and blood cells are trapped. [link] summarizes the three steps of hemostasis.

Questions & Answers

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Foster Reply
homeostasis is that maintenance of a fairly constant internal environment in living organism.
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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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