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What is a Serous Membrane?

By Victoria Blackburn
Updated May 23, 2024
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A serous membrane is a thin membrane that helps body parts move more easily and reduces friction between them. Also known as serosa, these membranes are found throughout the body, usually surrounding organs. There are several medical conditions associated with the serous membane, some of which can be life threatening.

Characteristics and Location

Serosa are made up of two layers of tissue with a thin layer of serous fluid in the middle. One layer is made up of mesothelium, which produces the fluid, while the other is made up of connective tissue, which attaches the membrane to other parts of the body and provides blood and nerves for the epithelial layer. Serous fluid itself is a thin liquid that's normally pale yellow, but can become milky, dark yellow, or red in people with infections or other medical conditions.

Many places in the body have serosa, including the body cavities surrounding the heart, lungs, and the abdomen and pelvic area. It's also found in the stomach, uterus, testicles, and vagina. Depending on where the membrane is located in the body, it may be called different things: for instance, the serous membrane around the heart is called the pericardium, while that around the lungs is called the pleura, and that surrounding the testes is called the tunica vaginalis.

Function

Though all serosa are primarily used for reducing friction, their exact function differs slightly by location. The pericardium, for example, makes it easy for the heart to expand and contract as it beats as well as protecting is and holding it in place. Similarly, the pleura makes it easier for the lungs to expand by reducing friction between them and the surrounding tissues, but also makes the outer layer of the lungs cling to the surrounding tissue, which helps keep them from collapsing inwards.

Related Problems

Problems with a serous membrane can be related to the serous fluid or to the two tissue layers. An overproduction of fluid can cause serious problems, especially if enough fluid is produced to put pressure on a person's organs. This is called effusion when it happens around the heart or lungs, and ascites if it happens in the peritoneum. All three can be life-threatening if not treated promptly, and usually have to be treated by draining the fluid with a needle. Serous fluid can also become infected with bacteria or mixed with blood because of a problem somewhere else in the body.

Another condition that affects the tissue layers of the serous membrane, rather than the fluid, is malignant mesothelioma. This is a cancer that most often affects the pleura, though it can affect any of the serosa. It's primarily associated with exposure to asbestos, and is generally very difficult to treat.

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Discussion Comments

By anon253611 — On Mar 10, 2012

What would happen if the serous membrane lined the gut?

By anon235881 — On Dec 20, 2011

Thanks so much! This was a huge help! I'm cramming for an RN exam and this helped me out a lot!

By anon124190 — On Nov 04, 2010

thanks a lot. Your articles help me especially in my anatomy assignment and physiology.

suleiman m., from windsor university school of medicine

By anon71989 — On Mar 21, 2010

my name is brian. i want to say thanks a lot for this article. it really helped me with my assignment about body membranes in my anatomy assignment.

By randolfh — On Jan 08, 2010

i'm Randolf.. thanks for the article "serous membranes." It helped me here in my research about the four types of epithelial membranes. i found the article informative and that's why i joined your community.

as a student it really pays to have a reliable reference to equip me with knowledge. i major in biology so that's why i found it a must for me to get accurate information about life's questions. thanks again for the warm welcome. i like your website. it's great.

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