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Coronary Arteries: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on October 04, 2022

Coronary arteries play an important role in circulating blood within your body. Specifically, these arteries send blood straight to your heart, thus maintaining your myocardial functions and keeping your body in a state of equilibrium. 

What Are Coronary Arteries?

Your coronary arteries branch from your aorta, the largest artery in your body, which supplies the rest of your body with blood. The coronary arteries are another part of the vascular system, which provides your circulation. 

Your coronary arteries of made up of three different layers. The inner layer is called the tunica intima. 

The middle layer that helps maintain your blood pressure is called the media. This layer is elastic and can expand and contract while your blood flows through the artery. 

The outer layer is called the adventitia and has small vessels that transfer oxygen and nutrients in your blood to the cells that make up your heart. 

Where are the coronary arteries located?

Your coronary arteries wrap around your heart and send oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. From there, the arteries branch into smaller branches to carry the blood into the heart muscle and then take oxygen-depleted blood away from your heart. 

What Do Coronary Arteries Do?

Coronary arteries function primarily to bring blood to your heart muscles. Without keeping these important muscles oxygenated, you would be at greater risk of heart disease and heart attacks. 

The coronary arteries anatomy primarily consists of two main arteries: left and right. 

Left coronary artery. The artery that supplies blood to the left part of your heart is your left artery. This artery sends blood to your left ventricle and left atrium, providing your heart with oxygen-rich blood

This artery divides into separate branches, and each branch is responsible for sending blood to different parts of your heart. The branches from your left coronary artery send blood to your heart's front and left side, as well as the outer side and back of your heart. 

The two main branches of your left main coronary artery include the: 

  • Left anterior descending artery
  • Left circumflex coronary artery

Right coronary artery. Your right coronary artery sends blood to the right side of your heart and also helps regulate your heartbeat. Branches from this artery also send blood to the middle of your heart. 

Three smaller branches of your right coronary artery include: 

  • The obtuse marginal
  • Septal perforator
  • Diagonals  

Signs Something Could Be Wrong With Your Coronary Arteries

Chest pain or discomfort is the first sign that something could be wrong with your coronary arteries. Chest pain (angina) is a common symptom of coronary artery disease. This pain may occur when plaque builds up in your arteries and blood isn’t able to flow smoothly into your heart.

Coronary artery problems can manifest differently in men and women. Pain will appear in the man's chest, but women may feel pain in their chest, arm, face, upper stomach, or back. 

Other signs you may be experiencing problems within your heart include: 

  • Weakness or light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • A cold sweat
  • Pain or discomfort in your arms or shoulders
  • Shortness of breath

Unfortunately, certain conditions are sometimes not properly diagnosed prior to a stroke or heart attack, so it's essential to monitor the symptoms listed above and talk to your doctor to help catch problems early.  

What Conditions Affect Coronary Arteries? 

One of the main conditions that will affect arteries is coronary artery disease. This condition develops slowly but ultimately results in less oxygen-rich blood making it to your heart muscles. Over time, coronary artery disease can lead to other conditions like heart failure, arrhythmia, and blood clots, causing a stroke or heart attack. 

Coronary artery disease causes plaque buildup in your arteries. Your arteries have limited flexibility but can't keep up with this type of blockage. 

Atherosclerosis is another condition that affects your coronary arteries. It limits blood flow in your arteries and can cause heart muscle failure. 

How to Keep Coronary Arteries Healthy

Problems with your heart and coronary arteries occur slowly, so if you catch them quickly, you can often take steps to significantly improve your heart health (potentially avoiding the illness to begin with). For instance, you can:

Eat a healthy diet. A diet that's high in fiber and low in fat can help improve your overall health. Adding fresh fruit and vegetables with whole grains is a great place to start. It's also important to limit salt in your diet. Too much can cause high blood pressure, putting strain on your arteries.

Stay active. Walking, running, or cycling are great ways to exercise and keep your heart healthy. Engaging in these and a variety of other activities can make exercise fun and help you stick to it.

Maintain a healthy weight. Regularly eating better and working out makes it more likely you will stay in a healthy weight range. Your doctor can also help you calculate your BMI and determine if you're on the right track.

Limit alcohol and quit smoking. Smoking and drinking alcohol have adverse effects on your health. Smoking and drinking can put a strain on your heart, as well as your lungs and liver. Talk to your doctor about building a plan to reduce or completely give up smoking and alcohol. 

Manage your stress.Stress is a silent yet harmful strain on your heart. Stress can lead to unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking or binge eating. It can also keep you down and less active. Finding a healthy way to manage stress (like yoga, journaling, meditating, or anything else that brings you peace) is important if you want to live a longer life.

Get enough sleep. Sleep is an important part of heart health. You face a higher risk of heart disease if you don't get enough sleep or if you sleep too long. Improving your sleep habits can help you see an overall improvement in your physical and mental health.  

It's never too late to start prioritizing your heart health. Talk to your doctor so they can help you find the right plan to kickstart your healthier lifestyle.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
CDC: “Coronary Artery Disease (CAD),” “Women and Heart Disease.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Coronary Arteries.”
Harvard T.H. Chan: “Preventing Heart Disease.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Anatomy and Function of the Coronary Arteries,” “Coronary Artery Disease: Prevention, Treatment and Research.”
NHS: “Coronary heart disease.”
OASH: “Keep Your Heart Healthy.”
StatPearls: “Anatomy, Thorax, Heart Coronary Arteries.”
The Texas Heart Institute: “Coronary Arteries.”
University of Rochester Medical Center: “Anatomy and Function of the Coronary Arteries.”

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