Coronary Artery Functions

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, you need to increase your knowledge about your heart and the function of the coronary arteries that are the blood supply for your heart. Your heart is a hallow organ that is constantly pumping blood throughout your body. The heart is a strong muscle called the myocardium. In order to keep your heart pumping, it has its own supply of oxygen and blood. The coronary arteries are vessels that are responsible for getting oxygen rich blood to your heart.

In order to understand the function of the coronary arteries, you need to have a basic understanding of the heart. The heart has four chambers. There are two upper chambers known as the left and right atrium that receive and collect blood. The two lower chambers are called the left and right ventricle that are responsible for pumping blood out of the heart.

When blood leaves the left ventricle, it is pumped into the aorta. The aorta is the body’s main artery. At the beginning of the aorta, which is near the top of the heart, two coronary arteries start. They are known as the left and right coronary arteries. The first part of the left coronary artery is called the left main artery. Its circumference is wide as a drinking straw and is approximately an inch long.

This left main artery then branches into two narrower arteries, the left anterior descending which travels down the front side of the heart, and the left circumflex which actually circles around the left side and then goes back to the heart. The right coronary branches off the body’s main artery the aorta. The right coronary artery circles around the right side of the heart and then travels to the back of the heart.

Your coronary arteries travel on the outer surface of the heart and then divide into smaller branches. These are the branches that penetrate deep into the muscle of the heart and carry the oxygen rich blood to all the cells.

When plague builds up on the coronary arteries, this is what is known as coronary heart disease. If the blood flow is reduced enough or totally blocked it can cause a heart attack or angina. Angina is a pain or a chest discomfort that can occur in the chest, arm or even your jaw when there is not enough blood flow to the heart. Angina is a warning sign that signals that the coronary arteries may be narrowed or blocked.

If you are diagnosed with coronary heart disease, you have an increased risk of having a heart attack. A heart attack occurs ( also known as myocardial infarction) when a coronary artery becomes totally blocked,often by a blood clot. The area of the heart muscle supplied by the blocked coronary artery dies and turns into scar tissue.

A cardiac catheterization procedure is done to measure the pressures in the heart, examine how well the heart is pumping blood, and take pictures of the coronary arteries and the heart chambers. If an artery is diseased it will show as an abnormal narrowing that is called a lesion.

There are several options to treat coronary artery disease:


This is used to help reduce the symptoms of angina and help to increase the amount of oxygen that is reaching the heart muscle. Medications cannot open up and clear narrowed coronary arteries.


Balloon angioplasty is used to open up narrowed coronary arteries without having to perform surgery. It improves the blood flow to the heart muscle. There are some limitations with having an angioplasty procedure. Sometimes within the first six months the artery may narrow again. It is not an option when an artery is totally blocked or there are multiple lesions present in several of the major arteries.

3. Stent placement

This is a small device that is placed in the artery to help keep it open. They will place a stent when angioplasty cannot get a coronary artery opened wide enough. They also place stents to reduce the chance that the artery will become narrow again. This is a permanent implant that remains in the the coronary artery.

There are drug coated stents that are sometimes used. These stents are covered with a special coated medication. This is to prevent what they call in-stent restenosis, which is caused by the growth of too much tissue within the stent. The drug that is present on this special treated stent helps reduce the growth of tissue in and around the stent. The end result is to prevent the in-stent restenosis.


The decision to perform coronary surgery is made when someone has severe disease to two or three major arteries. This is usually considered the best treatment option if the heart is weakened and not pumping well. During this procedure the cardiac surgeons use a graft ( a blood vessel from the leg or chest). One end of the graft is attached to the aorta, and the other end is sewn to the coronary artery. The graft actually makes a detour that allows blood to flow around the diseased area.

After having been diagnosed with coronary artery disease or have a procedure completed, you will receive education about the importance of making changes in your lifestyle. Yo will receive healthily diet information, be encouraged to exercise regularly to strengthen your heart muscle, and if you smoke to quit smoking. The most important fact is that you have the responsibility of taking care of yourself and your heart. Failing to follow your doctors advice and make changes in your life can lead to a very altered standard of living and or even death.