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 coronary artery supplies blood
to the front and left lateral 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 ventricle, the main
pumping chamber of the heart.
- The circumflex artery, which branches off the left coronary artery and
encircles the heart muscle. This artery supplies blood to the left lateral
and side and back of the heart.
- Right coronary artery (RCA). The right coronary artery supplies blood to
the right ventricle, the right atrium, the bottom of the left ventricle,
and the SA (sinoatrial) and AV (atrioventricular) nodes, which regulate
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 attack.
What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD), is characterized by the accumulation of
fatty plaques along the innermost layer of the coronary arteries. The
fatty plaque may develop in childhood and continue to thicken and enlarge
throughout the life span. This thickening, called atherosclerosis, narrows
the arteries and can decrease or block the flow of blood to the heart.
The American Heart Association estimates that over 16 million Americans
suffer from coronary artery disease--the number one killer of both men
and women in the U.S.
What are the risk factors for coronary artery disease?
Risk factors for CAD often include:
- High LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides levels, and low HDL cholesterol
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Physical inactivity
- Family history of premature CAD
Controlling risk factors through lifestyle modifications, combined with
medication when necessary, is the key to preventing illness and death from CAD.
What are the symptoms of coronary artery disease?
The symptoms of coronary heart disease do not depend on the severity of
the disease. Some people with severe CAD have no symptoms, some have episodes
of mild chest pain or angina, and some have more severe chest pain. However,
some patients without CAD have symptoms simulating severe CAD.
If too little oxygenated blood reaches the heart, a person will experience
chest pain called angina. When the blood supply is completely cut off,
which can happen when fatty plaques suddenly rupture, the result is a
heart attack, and the heart muscle begins to die. Some people may have
a heart attack and never recognize the symptoms. This is called a "silent"
When symptoms are present, each person may experience them differently.
Symptoms of coronary artery disease may include:
- Heaviness, tightness, pressure, and/or pain in the chest behind the breastbone
- Pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness and fatigue
For more information about coronary artery disease, visit the RWJBarnabas
Health online health library at healthlibrary.barnabashealth.org.
For a referral to a RWJBarnabas Health cardiac specialist, call 888-724-7123.