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Anatomy and Function of the Coronary Arteries

Illustration showing the outside of the heart and the coronary arteries
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Coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle. Like all other tissues in the body, the heart muscle needs oxygen-rich blood to function, and oxygen-depleted blood must be carried away. The coronary arteries run along the outside of the heart and have small branches that dive into the heart muscle to bring it blood.

What are the different coronary arteries?

The two main coronary arteries are the left main and right coronary arteries.

  • Left main coronary artery (LMCA). The left main coronary artery supplies blood to the left side of the heart muscle (the left ventricle and left atrium). The left main coronary divides into branches:

    • The left anterior descending artery, which branches off the left coronary artery and supplies blood to the front of the left side of the heart.

    • The circumflex artery, which branches off the left coronary artery and encircles the heart muscle. This artery supplies blood to the outer side and back of the heart.

  • Right coronary artery (RCA). The right coronary artery supplies blood to the right ventricle, the right atrium, and the SA (sinoatrial) and AV (atrioventricular) nodes, which regular the heart rhythm. The right coronary artery divides into smaller branches, including the right posterior descending artery and the acute marginal artery.

Additional smaller branches of the coronary arteries include: obtuse marginal (OM), septal perforator (SP), and diagonals.

Why are the coronary arteries important?

Since coronary arteries deliver blood to the heart muscle, any coronary artery disorder or disease can have serious implications by reducing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. This can lead to a heart attack and possibly death. Atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery causing it to narrow or become blocked) is the most common cause of heart disease.

Last Reviewed Date: 04/17/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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