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In Depth: Coronaries

The heart is one of the hardest working organs in the body, and is responsible for pumping blood throughout the entire body. As such, it needs its own blood supply system to keep it in working order.

That’s where the coronary arteries and veins come into play. The name coronary stems from the Latin word coronarius (“of a crown”) because they encircle the heart as a crown would on the head of a king or queen.

There are two types of coronary blood vessels that supply blood flow to the heart: arteries and veins.

They include:

  • Right coronary artery
  • Left coronary artery
  • Great cardiac vein
  • Small cardiac vein

The myocardium—the muscles of the heart—are fueled with freshly oxygenated blood and nutrients from the right and left coronary arteries. The waste created as the heart contracts is removed from the right and left coronary veins.

The coronary arteries branch off from the aorta and spread out to cover all regions of the heart. They receive blood as the aortic valve opens when the heart relaxes between beats.

After receiving oxygen from capillaries in the heart’s muscle, the blood travels through cardiac veins, collects in the coronary sinus, and then flows into the atrium where the process starts all over again.

Because the heart is contracting on average of 70 to 75 times a minute, problems with blood flow to the heart can cause serious damage.

Blockage of the coronary arteries and veins are immediate, and often fatal, health concerns because they are the heart muscle’s only supply of blood. Without regular, uninhibited supply, the heart cannot function properly.

Dubbed the “widow maker,” coronary occlusion occurs when the main coronary artery becomes partially or completely blocked, often resulting in a massive heart attack that is most often fatal.

Other common problems regarding coronary arteries include:

  • Coronary artery disease: reduced blood flow to the heart via the coronary artery
  • Coronary failure: heart failure due to narrowing or blockage of the coronary artery
  • Coronary sclerosis: hardening of the coronary artery
  • Coronary thrombosis: blockage of a coronary artery due to a clot

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