An artery is a type of blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart and distributes oxygenated blood to different parts of the body.
There are basically three types of arteries: elastic arteries, muscular arteries, and arterioles. Elastic arteries are the large kinds and are responsible for maintaining the body’s blood pressure. Examples of elastic arteries are the aorta and its major branches. Muscular arteries, on the other hand, are responsible for delivering blood to different parts of the body. The walls of these arteries contain smooth muscle fibers, which permits the regulation of blood flow, depending on the requirement. An example is the femoral artery. Finally, arterioles are the smallest types of arteries that branch into capillaries, the smallest of all blood vessels.
The walls of arteries are made up of three layers: the tunica adventitia (outermost layer), the tunica media (middle layer), and the tunica intima (innermost layer).
Common Arterial Problem and Conditions
Atherosclerosis – This refers to the accumulation of fat in the walls of the arteries, resulting in the formation of plaque. Progressive atherosclerosis can eventually lead to occlusion of the arteries. Atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries (arteries supplying the heart) can lead to serious medical conditions, such as ischemic heart disease and myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Peripheral arterial disease – This refers to the narrowing of arteries that supply blood to the extremities. This can result from atherosclerosis or from inflammation of the arteries.
Aneurysm – An aneurysm is the enlargement in the diameter of an artery that is 1.5 times bigger than normal. The most commonly affected artery in the body is the abdominal aorta. Large aneurysms have a tendency to rupture, leading to massive blood loss and even death.
Dissection – An arterial dissection is a condition wherein the inner layer of the arterial wall is damaged resulting in a tear. Blood flows through the tear, leading to the separation (dissection) of the layers of the arterial wall.
Common Arterial Procedures and Surgeries
Angiography – This is an imaging procedure performed to visualize the various blood vessels in the body. A contrast agent is injected into the blood vessel via a special catheter and fluoroscopy is performed to visualize the images. Angiography is commonly used for the assessment of coronary arteries and the arteries of the extremities. Aside from aiding in the diagnosis, angiography can also be performed together with therapeutic procedures, such as an angioplasty, a minimally invasive technique used for managing stenotic arteries. In the procedure, the artery is dilated and stents may be placed to maintain patency.
Bypass surgery – This is performed in cases of blocked arteries with the goal to restore normal blood flow to an organ. A conduit, either a natural vessel or synthetic material, is used to reroute the blood, making sure that the end organ remains adequately perfused. Bypass surgery is most commonly performed for the heart (coronary artery bypass grafting) and for the extremities (peripheral bypass).
Endoaneurysmorrhaphy – This refers to the repair of an arterial aneurysm and can be performed surgically or via a hybrid procedure, which combines both surgical and minimally invasive techniques.