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In Depth: Coronaries

Because the heart is one of the hardest working organs in the body, responsible for pumping blood from your brain to your toes, 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 a king or queen’s head.

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 to pump blood is removed from the right and left coronary veins.

The coronary arteries branch off from the aorta—a chamber of the heart—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 into the atrium where the process starts all over again.

In essence, as the heart is contracting on average of 72 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 types of 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: blocking of a coronary artery

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