Understanding the 11 Body Organ Systems

An organ system is a group of organs that work together in the body to perform a complex function, such as pumping blood or processing and utilizing nutrients. There are 11 major organ systems in the human body:

  • The circulatory system
  • The lymphatic system
  • The respiratory system
  • The integumentary system
  • The endocrine system
  • The gastrointestinal (digestive) system
  • The urinary (excretory) system
  • The musculoskeletal system
  • The nervous system
  • The reproductive system
  • The immune system

Organ systems work in concert with other organ systems to keep the body in good health. For example, the circulatory and digestive systems work together to deliver nutrients throughout the body. With the exception of the reproductive system, each is necessary for survival.

This article discusses the 11 organ systems, including how they work, what organs they contain, and why they're important.

Model of human organs

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Circulatory System

The circulatory system transports oxygen and nutrients to all corners of the body. It also carries away carbon dioxide and other waste products.

When people talk about this organ system, they're usually talking about the cardiovascular system at large, which includes the:

  • Heart
  • Blood vessels (arteries and veins)
  • The blood itself

In order for blood to make it everywhere it needs to go, the circulatory system maintains the blood flow within a certain pressure range.

Blood pressure that's too high puts undue stress on other organs and tissues. Low blood pressure means the blood—and its nutrients—won't make it to where it needs to go.

Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is the drainage system of the body. It plays an important role in your immunity, blood pressure regulation, digestion, and other functions.

This organ system carries excess fluid, proteins, fats, bacteria, and other substances away from the cells and spaces between cells. It does this using:

The lymphatic vessels move the fluid into collecting ducts, which return the fluid to your bloodstream.

The lymphatic system also helps create and circulate vital cells that fight disease, which is why it is also a part of the immune system. This includes lymphocytes and monocytes (white blood cells) and antibodies (proteins that recognize bacteria and viruses).

Respiratory System

The respiratory system is responsible for breathing, which is the controlled movement of air in and out of the body (ventilation). It also moves oxygen and carbon dioxide into and out of the bloodstream (respiration).

This organ system contains the:

  • Lungs
  • Trachea (windpipe)
  • Airways of the respiratory tree

One of the least understood responsibilities of the respiratory system is to help regulate the body's pH balance, or the body's balance of acids and bases.

Carbon dioxide is made into carbonic acid, which affects the pH balance. The respiratory system regulates this pH level when it releases carbon dioxide from the body. Breathing issues may indicate a condition that affects the body's acidity.

Integumentary System

The integumentary system is unique because it is the only single-organ system.

The integumentary system is skin and all the structures in it, including the:

  • Sweat glands
  • Hair follicles
  • Nails
  • Nerves

Endocrine System

The endocrine system mostly regulates metabolism and uses the products of digestion. Along with the nervous system and immune system, it's generally considered one of the most complicated systems in the body.

This organ system includes all the glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream, including:

  • Adrenal
  • Hypothalamus
  • Pancreas
  • Parathyroid
  • Pineal
  • Pituitary
  • Thymus
  • Thyroid

Gastrointestinal (Digestive) System

The gastrointestinal (GI) system is sometimes referred to as the gut or the digestive system. It includes all the organs that carry food from where it enters to where it exits, including the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Rectum
  • Anus

The pancreas, gallbladder, and liver are also part of this organ system.

The GI tract and the endocrine system have a lot of interaction. The endocrine system produces the hormones that regulate digestion and the absorption of nutrients.

The GI system also plays host to a very important nerve called the vagus nerve. This is the main contributor to the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates bodily functions. The vagus nerve has a lot to do with slowing metabolism, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and stimulating the mechanics of digestion.

One Organ, Two Organ Systems

Some organs belong to more than one organ system. The pancreas, for example, is considered a part of the digestive system because it secretes enzymes that help the body break down fat, protein, and starch. It is also part of the endocrine system because it produces hormones that help regulate blood sugar.

Urinary (Excretory) System

The urinary system is made up of the:

  • Kidneys
  • Ureters
  • Bladder
  • Urethra

These organs work together to filter blood and remove toxins and waste from body tissues. The removal of excess fluid through this organ system also helps regulate blood pressure.

Musculoskeletal System

The musculoskeletal system provides the framework and the engine for our movement, posture, and physical abilities.

This organ system includes the:

  • Skeleton
  • All the muscles, tendons, and ligaments attached to it

The three types of muscles in the body are:

  • Skeletal (voluntary)
  • Smooth (visceral or involuntary), which are inside walls of organs like the intestines
  • Cardiac (heart muscle)

Only skeletal muscle is considered part of the musculoskeletal system.

Nervous System

The nervous system is a network that makes it possible for different parts of the body to communicate with one another. Think of it as your body's command station. All body processes, reactions, thoughts, movements, and so on stem from this organ system.

The nervous system is incredibly detailed and includes the:

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • All the nerves connected to both of these organs

It contains the only tissue that isn't fed directly through contact with blood.

Reproductive System

This is the only organ system that is not complete in any one body and requires another person (or medical intervention) to complete its mission, which is to produce offspring.

The reproductive system is the only system that is split into two parts. Half of us have:

  • Penis
  • Testicles

The other half has:

  • Vagina
  • Uterus
  • Ovaries

Immune System

The immune system is listed last because, while it's important for survival, all of its organs are borrowed from other organ systems.

The immune system organs work like sailors on a navy ship: Each one has a primary duty and is cross-trained for other jobs.

The primary organs of the immune system are:

  • Lymph nodes
  • Bone marrow
  • Thymus
  • Spleen
  • Adenoids
  • Tonsils
  • Skin

Because of the interplay between organs from various other systems, the immune system is one of the most complicated systems of all.

Summary

Your body has 11 different organ systems. Each group of organs has a different complex function, such as movement, breathing, or digestion.

In some cases, one system works closely with another on a particular task. For example, the endocrine system interacts with the gastrointestinal system to control digestion and metabolism.

When your organ systems are working properly, they help your body stay in balance and maintain your health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What organ systems work together?

    There are many examples. For instance, the nervous system sends signals to the musculoskeletal system that control movement. The circulatory system and respiratory system work together to make sure your cells receive oxygen.

  • Is skin an organ?

    Yes. Skin is both an organ and an entire organ system.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). How does the blood circulatory system work?

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Lymphatic system.

  3. MedlinePlus. Alkalosis.

  4. Merck Manual. Endocrine glands.

  5. Merck Manual. Overview of the digestive system.

  6. Merck Manual. Overview of the urinary tract.

  7. Merck Manuals. Overview of the musculoskeletal system.

  8. Merck Manual. Overview of the nervous system.

  9. Merck Manual. Overview of the immune system.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.