Coronary circulation

Coronary circulation is the circulation of blood in the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle (myocardium). Coronary arteries supply oxygenated blood to the heart muscle, and cardiac veins drain away the blood once it has been deoxygenated. Because the rest of the body, and most especially the brain, needs a steady supply of oxygenated blood that is free of all but the slightest interruptions, the heart works constantly and sometimes works quite hard. Therefore its circulation is of major importance not only to its own tissues but to the entire body and even the level of consciousness of the brain from moment to moment. Interruptions of coronary circulation quickly cause heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), in which the heart muscle is damaged by oxygen starvation. Such interruptions are usually caused by ischemic heart disease (coronary artery disease) and sometimes by embolism from other causes like obstruction in blood flow through vessels.

Coronary circulation
Coronary arteries
Coronary arteries labeled in red text and other landmarks in blue text.
Anatomical terminology


Coronary Vessels
Schematic diagram of the coronary arteries and veins.
Cardiac vessels
Schematic view of the heart
Base and diaphragmatic surface of heart.

Coronary arteries supply blood to the myocardium and other components of the heart. Two coronary arteries originate from the left side of the heart at the beginning (root) of the aorta, just after the aorta exits the left ventricle. There are three aortic sinuses (dilations) in the wall of the aorta just superior to the aortic semilunar valve. Two of these, the left posterior aortic sinus and anterior aortic sinus, give rise to the left and right coronary arteries, respectively. The third sinus, the right posterior aortic sinus, typically does not give rise to a vessel. Coronary vessel branches that remain on the surface of the artery and follow the sulci of the heart are called epicardial coronary arteries.[1]

The left coronary artery distributes blood to the left side of the heart, the left atrium and ventricle, and the interventricular septum. The circumflex artery arises from the left coronary artery and follows the coronary sulcus to the left. Eventually, it will fuse with the small branches of the right coronary artery. The larger anterior interventricular artery, also known as the left anterior descending artery (LAD), is the second major branch arising from the left coronary artery. It follows the anterior interventricular sulcus around the pulmonary trunk. Along the way it gives rise to numerous smaller branches that interconnect with the branches of the posterior interventricular artery, forming anastomoses. An anastomosis is an area where vessels unite to form interconnections that normally allow blood to circulate to a region even if there may be partial blockage in another branch. The anastomoses in the heart are very small. Therefore, this ability is somewhat restricted in the heart so a coronary artery blockage often results in myocardial infarction causing death of the cells supplied by the particular vessel.[1]

The right coronary artery proceeds along the coronary sulcus and distributes blood to the right atrium, portions of both ventricles, and the heart conduction system. Normally, one or more marginal arteries arise from the right coronary artery inferior to the right atrium. The marginal arteries supply blood to the superficial portions of the right ventricle. On the posterior surface of the heart, the right coronary artery gives rise to the posterior interventricular artery, also known as the posterior descending artery. It runs along the posterior portion of the interventricular sulcus toward the apex of the heart, giving rise to branches that supply the interventricular septum and portions of both ventricles.[1]


Coronary Arteries
Cast of coronary arteries (right = yellow, left = red)

There are some anastomoses between branches of the two coronary arteries. However the coronary arteries are functionally end arteries and so these meetings are referred to as potential anastomoses, which lack function, as opposed to true anastomoses like that in the palm of the hand. This is because blockage of one coronary artery generally results in death of the heart tissue due to lack of sufficient blood supply from the other branch. When two arteries or their branches join, the area of the myocardium receives dual blood supply. These junctions are called anastomoses. If one coronary artery is obstructed by an atheroma, the second artery is still able to supply oxygenated blood to the myocardium. However, this can only occur if the atheroma progresses slowly, giving the anastomoses a chance to proliferate.

Under the most common configuration of coronary arteries, there are three areas of anastomoses. Small branches of the LAD (left anterior descending/anterior interventricular) branch of the left coronary join with branches of the posterior interventricular branch of the right coronary in the interventricular sulcus(groove). More superiorly, there is an anastomosis between the circumflex artery (a branch of the left coronary artery) and the right coronary artery in the atrioventricular groove. There is also an anastomosis between the septal branches of the two coronary arteries in the interventricular septum. The photograph shows area of heart supplied by the right and the left coronary arteries.


The left and right coronary arteries occasionally arise by a common trunk, or their number may be increased to three; the additional branch being the posterior coronary artery (which is smaller in size). In rare cases, a person will have the third coronary artery run around the root of the aorta.

Occasionally, a coronary artery will exist as a double structure (i.e. there are two arteries, parallel to each other, where ordinarily there would be one).

Coronary artery dominance

The artery that supplies the posterior third of the interventricular septum – the posterior descending artery (PDA)[2] determines the coronary dominance.[3]

  • If the posterior descending artery is supplied by the right coronary artery (RCA), then the coronary circulation can be classified as "right-dominant".
  • If the posterior descending artery is supplied by the circumflex artery (CX), a branch of the left artery, then the coronary circulation can be classified as "left-dominant".
  • If the posterior descending artery is supplied by both the right coronary artery and the circumflex artery, then the coronary circulation can be classified as "co-dominant".

Approximately 70% of the general population are right-dominant, 20% are co-dominant, and 10% are left-dominant.[3] A precise anatomic definition of dominance would be the artery which gives off supply to the AV node i.e. the AV nodal artery. Most of the time this is the right coronary artery.


Supply to papillary muscles

The papillary muscles attach the mitral valve (the valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle) and the tricuspid valve (the valve between the right atrium and the right ventricle) to the wall of the heart. If the papillary muscles are not functioning properly, the mitral valve may leak during contraction of the left ventricle. This causes some of the blood to travel "in reverse", from the left ventricle to the left atrium, instead of forward to the aorta and the rest of the body. This leaking of blood to the left atrium is known as mitral regurgitation. Similarly, the leaking of blood from the right ventricle through the tricuspid valve and into the right atrium can also occur, and this is described as tricuspid insufficiency or tricuspid regurgitation.

The anterolateral papillary muscle more frequently receives two blood supplies: left anterior descending (LAD) artery and the left circumflex artery (LCX).[4] It is therefore more frequently resistant to coronary ischemia (insufficiency of oxygen-rich blood). On the other hand, the posteromedial papillary muscle is usually supplied only by the PDA.[4] This makes the posteromedial papillary muscle significantly more susceptible to ischemia. The clinical significance of this is that a myocardial infarction involving the PDA is more likely to cause mitral regurgitation.

Changes in diastole

During contraction of the ventricular myocardium (systole), the subendocardial coronary vessels (the vessels that enter the myocardium) are compressed due to the high ventricular pressures. This compression results in momentary retrograde blood flow (i.e., blood flows backward toward the aorta) which further inhibits perfusion of myocardium during systole. However, the epicardial coronary vessels (the vessels that run along the outer surface of the heart) remain open. Because of this, blood flow in the subendocardium stops during ventricular contraction. As a result, most myocardial perfusion occurs during heart relaxation (diastole) when the subendocardial coronary vessels are open and under lower pressure. Flow never comes to zero in the right coronary artery, since the right ventricular pressure is less than the diastolic blood pressure.

Changes in oxygen demand

The heart regulates the amount of vasodilation or vasoconstriction of the coronary arteries based upon the oxygen requirements of the heart. This contributes to the filling difficulties of the coronary arteries. Compression remains the same. Failure of oxygen delivery caused by a decrease in blood flow in front of increased oxygen demand of the heart results in tissue ischemia, a condition of oxygen deficiency. Brief ischemia is associated with intense chest pain, known as angina. Severe ischemia can cause the heart muscle to die from hypoxia, such as during a myocardial infarction. Chronic moderate ischemia causes contraction of the heart to weaken, known as myocardial hibernation.

In addition to metabolism, the coronary circulation possesses unique pharmacologic characteristics. Prominent among these is its reactivity to adrenergic stimulation.


The following are the named branches of the coronary circulation in a right-dominant heart:

Coronary anatomy

Cardiac veins

The vessels that remove the deoxygenated blood from the heart muscle are known as cardiac veins. These include the great cardiac vein, the middle cardiac vein, the small cardiac vein, the smallest cardiac veins, and the anterior cardiac veins. Cardiac veins carry blood with a poor level of oxygen, from the myocardium to the right atrium. Most of the blood of the coronary veins returns through the coronary sinus. The anatomy of the veins of the heart is very variable, but generally it is formed by the following veins: heart veins that go into the coronary sinus: the great cardiac vein, the middle cardiac vein, the small cardiac vein, the posterior vein of the left ventricle, and the vein of Marshall. Heart veins that go directly to the right atrium: the anterior cardiac veins, the smallest cardiac veins (Thebesian veins).[5]

Coronary arteries

The vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to the myocardium are the coronary arteries. When the arteries are healthy, they are capable of autoregulating themselves to maintain the coronary blood flow at levels appropriate to the needs of the heart muscle. These relatively narrow vessels are commonly affected by atherosclerosis and can become blocked, causing angina or a heart attack. The coronary arteries that run deep within the myocardium are referred to as subendocardial. The coronary arteries are classified as "end circulation", since they represent the only source of blood supply to the myocardium; there is very little redundant blood supply, that is why blockage of these vessels can be so critical.

Additional images

Blausen 0260 CoronaryVessels Anterior

Anterior view of coronary circulation

Blausen 0261 CoronaryVessels Posterior

Posterior view of coronary circulation

Blausen 0256 CoronaryArteries 02

Illustration of coronary arteries

2005 Surface Anatomy of the Heart

The human heart viewed from the front and from behind


This article incorporates text from the CC-BY book: OpenStax College, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. 30 jul 2014..

  1. ^ a b c Betts, J. Gordon (2013). Anatomy & physiology. pp. 787–846. ISBN 1938168135. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  2. ^ 00460 at CHORUS
  3. ^ a b Fuster, V; Alexander RW; O'Rourke RA (2001). Hurst's The Heart (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 53. ISBN 0-07-135694-0.
  4. ^ a b Voci P, Bilotta F, Caretta Q, Mercanti C, Marino B (1995). "Papillary muscle perfusion pattern. A hypothesis for ischemic papillary muscle dysfunction". Circulation. 91 (6): 1714–8. doi:10.1161/01.cir.91.6.1714. PMID 7882478.
  5. ^

See also

Adam Christian Thebesius

Adam Christian Thebesius (January 12, 1686 – November 10, 1732) was a German anatomist who was a native of Sandenwalde, Silesia.

He studied medicine in Jena, Leipzig and Leiden, receiving his doctorate from the University of Leiden in 1708. During the following year, he opened a medical practice in Hirschberg, and beginning in 1715 he served as Stadtphysikus (municipal physician) in Hirschberg, as well as a medical consultant to the nearby Warmbrunn spa.

Thebesius is known for his studies of coronary circulation. In his 1708 graduate thesis, De circulo sangunis in corde (On the Circulation of the Blood in the Heart), he described the tiny cardiac venous tributaries that drain directly into the cardiac chambers. These veins are now known as "Thebesian veins", or venae cordis minimae, and the drainage pathway is referred to as the "Thebesian system". Two other anatomical structures that contain his name are:

Thebesian foramina: Also known as foramina venarum minimarum or "Vieussens' foramina" after Raymond Vieussens (1635–1715). These structures are orifices of the Thebesian veins.

Thebesian valve: The valve of the coronary sinus.


Autoregulation is a process within many biological systems, resulting from an internal adaptive mechanism that works to adjust (or mitigate) that system's response to stimuli. While most systems of the body show some degree of autoregulation, it is most clearly observed in the kidney, the heart, and the brain. Perfusion of these organs is essential for life, and through autoregulation the body can divert blood (and thus, oxygen) where it is most needed.

Cardiac muscle

Cardiac muscle (also called heart muscle or myocardium) is one of three types of vertebrate muscles, with the other two being skeletal and smooth muscles. It is an involuntary, striated muscle that constitutes the main tissue of the walls of the heart. The myocardium forms a thick middle layer between the outer layer of the heart wall (the epicardium) and the inner layer (the endocardium), with blood supplied via the coronary circulation. It is composed of individual heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) joined together by intercalated discs, encased by collagen fibres and other substances that form the extracellular matrix.

Cardiac muscle contracts in a similar manner to skeletal muscle, although with some important differences. An electrical stimulation in the form of an action potential triggers the release of calcium from the cell's internal calcium store, the sarcoplasmic reticulum. The rise in calcium causes the cell's myofilaments to slide past each other in a process called excitation contraction coupling.

Diseases of heart muscle are of major importance. These include conditions caused by a restricted blood supply to the muscle including angina pectoris and myocardial infarction, and other heart muscle disease known as cardiomyopathies.

Cardiac stress test

A cardiac stress test (also referred to as a cardiac diagnostic test, cardiopulmonary exercise test, or abbreviated CPX test) is a cardiological test that measures the heart's ability to respond to external stress in a controlled clinical environment. The stress response is induced by exercise or by intravenous pharmacological stimulation.

Cardiac stress tests compare the coronary circulation while the patient is at rest with the same patient's circulation during maximum cardiac exertion, showing any abnormal blood flow to the myocardium (heart muscle tissue). The results can be interpreted as a reflection on the general physical condition of the test patient. This test can be used to diagnose coronary artery disease (also known as ischemic heart disease) and assess patient prognosis after a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

Exercise-induced stressors are most commonly either exercise on a treadmill or pedalling a stationary exercise bicycle ergometer. The level of stress is progressively increased by raising the difficulty (steepness of the slope on a treadmill or resistance on an ergometer) and speed. People who cannot use their legs may exercise with a bicycle-like crank that they turn with their arms. Once the stress test is completed, the patient generally is advised to not suddenly stop activity but to slowly decrease the intensity of the exercise over the course of several minutes.

The test administrator or attending physician examines the symptoms and blood pressure response. To measure the heart's response to the stress the patient may be connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG); in this case the test is most commonly called a cardiac stress test but is known by other names, such as exercise testing, stress testing treadmills, exercise tolerance test, stress test or stress test ECG. Alternatively a stress test may use an echocardiogram for ultrasonic imaging of the heart (in which case the test is called an echocardiography stress test or stress echo), or a gamma camera to image radioisotopes injected into the bloodstream (called a nuclear stress test).


Cardiology (from Greek καρδίᾱ kardiā, "heart" and -λογία -logia, "study") is a branch of medicine dealing with disorders of the heart as well as parts of the circulatory system. The field includes medical diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease, heart failure, valvular heart disease and electrophysiology. Physicians who specialize in this field of medicine are called cardiologists, a specialty of internal medicine. Pediatric cardiologists are pediatricians who specialize in cardiology. Physicians who specialize in cardiac surgery are called cardiothoracic surgeons or cardiac surgeons, a specialty of general surgery.

Although the cardiovascular system is inextricably linked to blood, cardiology is relatively unconcerned with hematology and its diseases. Some obvious exceptions that affect the function of the heart would be blood tests (electrolyte disturbances, troponins), decreased oxygen carrying capacity (anemia, hypovolemic shock), and coagulopathies.

Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon

The Commentary on Anatomy in Avicenna's Canon is a manuscript written in the 13th century by the Arab physician Ibn al-Nafis. The manuscript was discovered in 1924 in the archives of the Prussian State Library in Berlin, Germany. It contains the earliest descriptions of the coronary circulation and pulmonary circulation systems.


Coronary (from Latin Corona, meaning 'Crown') may, as shorthand in English, be used to mean: a Heart Attack ie: a coronary event

Coronary circulation, the system of arteries and veins in mammals

Coronary artery disease

Coronary occlusion

A myocardial infarction, a heart attack

Coronary arteries

The coronary arteries are the arteries of the coronary circulation, which transports blood into and out of the cardiac muscle. They are mainly composed of the left and right coronary arteries, both of which give off branches. Coronary arteries can also be categorized as Epicardial (above the epicardium) and Microvascular (close to the endocardium).The left coronary artery arises from the aorta above the left cusp of the aortic valve and feeds blood to the left side of the heart. It branches into two arteries and sometimes a third branch is formed at the fork, known as a ramus or intermediate artery.The right coronary artery originates from above the right cusp of the aortic valve. It travels down the right coronary sulcus, towards the crux of the heart.

There is also the conus artery, which is only present in about 45 per cent of the human population, and which may provide collateral blood flow to the heart when the left anterior descending artery is occluded.

Coronary catheterization

A coronary catheterization is a minimally invasive procedure to access the coronary circulation and blood filled chambers of the heart using a catheter. It is performed for both diagnostic and interventional (treatment) purposes.

Coronary catheterization is one of the several cardiology diagnostic tests and procedures. Specifically, coronary catheterization is a visually interpreted test performed to recognize occlusion, stenosis, restenosis, thrombosis or aneurysmal enlargement of the coronary artery lumens; heart chamber size; heart muscle contraction performance; and some aspects of heart valve function. Important internal heart and lung blood pressures, not measurable from outside the body, can be accurately measured during the test. The relevant problems that the test deals with most commonly occur as a result of advanced atherosclerosis – atheroma activity within the wall of the coronary arteries. Less frequently, valvular, heart muscle, or arrhythmia issues are the primary focus of the test.

Coronary artery luminal narrowing reduces the flow reserve for oxygenated blood to the heart, typically producing intermittent angina. Very advanced luminal occlusion usually produces a heart attack. However, it has been increasingly recognized, since the late 1980s, that coronary catheterization does not allow the recognition of the presence or absence of coronary atherosclerosis itself, only significant luminal changes which have occurred as a result of end stage complications of the atherosclerotic process. See IVUS and atheroma for a better understanding of this issue.

Coronary steal

Coronary steal (with its symptoms termed coronary steal syndrome or cardiac steal syndrome) is a phenomenon where an alteration of circulation patterns leads to a reduction in the blood directed to the coronary circulation. It is caused when there is narrowing of the coronary arteries and a coronary vasodilator is used – "stealing" blood away from those parts of the heart. This happens as a result of the narrowed coronary arteries being always maximally dilated to compensate for the decreased upstream blood supply. Thus, dilating the resistance vessels in the coronary circulation causes blood to be shunted away from the coronary vessels supplying the ischemic zones, creating more ischemia.

Crista supraventricularis

Crista supraventricularis is a muscular ridge within the right ventricle of the heart. It is located between the tricuspid and pulmonic valves, at the junction of the right ventricular anterior (free) wall and the interventricular septum. It has a "U-shaped" morphology, which serves as a "trough" for the proximal right coronary artery.Relationship to adjacent structures:

cups the right coronary artery sinus of the aorta

directly inferior to anterior leaflet of the tricuspid valve


The endocardium is the innermost layer of tissue that lines the chambers of the heart. Its cells are embryologically and biologically similar to the endothelial cells that line blood vessels. The endocardium also provides protection to the valves and heart chambers.

The endocardium underlies the much more voluminous myocardium, the muscular tissue responsible for the contraction of the heart. The outer layer of the heart is termed epicardium and the heart is surrounded by a small amount of fluid enclosed by a fibrous sac called the pericardium.


The heart is a muscular organ in most animals, which pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system. Blood provides the body with oxygen and nutrients, as well as assisting in the removal of metabolic wastes. In humans, the heart is located between the lungs, in the middle compartment of the chest.In humans, other mammals, and birds, the heart is divided into four chambers: upper left and right atria; and lower left and right ventricles. Commonly the right atrium and ventricle are referred together as the right heart and their left counterparts as the left heart. Fish, in contrast, have two chambers, an atrium and a ventricle, while reptiles have three chambers. In a healthy heart blood flows one way through the heart due to heart valves, which prevent backflow. The heart is enclosed in a protective sac, the pericardium, which also contains a small amount of fluid. The wall of the heart is made up of three layers: epicardium, myocardium, and endocardium.The heart pumps blood with a rhythm determined by a group of pacemaking cells in the sinoatrial node. These generate a current that causes contraction of the heart, traveling through the atrioventricular node and along the conduction system of the heart. The heart receives blood low in oxygen from the systemic circulation, which enters the right atrium from the superior and inferior venae cavae and passes to the right ventricle. From here it is pumped into the pulmonary circulation, through the lungs where it receives oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide. Oxygenated blood then returns to the left atrium, passes through the left ventricle and is pumped out through the aorta to the systemic circulation−where the oxygen is used and metabolized to carbon dioxide. The heart beats at a resting rate close to 72 beats per minute. Exercise temporarily increases the rate, but lowers resting heart rate in the long term, and is good for heart health.Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the most common cause of death globally as of 2008, accounting for 30% of deaths. Of these more than three quarters are a result of coronary artery disease and stroke. Risk factors include: smoking, being overweight, little exercise, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and poorly controlled diabetes, among others. Cardiovascular diseases frequently do not have symptoms or may cause chest pain or shortness of breath. Diagnosis of heart disease is often done by the taking of a medical history, listening to the heart-sounds with a stethoscope, ECG, and ultrasound. Specialists who focus on diseases of the heart are called cardiologists, although many specialties of medicine may be involved in treatment.

Interatrial sulcus

The interatrial sulcus, separating the two atria, is scarcely marked on the posterior surface, while anteriorly it is hidden by the pulmonary artery and aorta.

Louis Katz

Louis Nelson Katz (1897 in Pinsk, Russian Empire - 1973) was an American cardiologist. Katz has written more than 500 publications on hemodynamics, electrocardiography, hypertension, experimental atherosclerosis, the coronary circulation, myocardial metabolism, and more.


Phlobaphenes (or phlobaphens, CAS No.:71663-19-9) are reddish, alcohol-soluble and water-insoluble phenolic substances. They can be extracted from plants, or be the result from treatment of tannin extracts with mineral acids (tanner's red). The name phlobaphen come from the Greek roots φλoιὀς (phloios) meaning bark and βαφή (baphe) meaning dye.No biological activities have currently been reported for phlobaphenes. Phlobaphenes from hawthorn fruits (Fructus Crataegi) may have a specific action on the coronary circulation. They are converted into humins in soils.

Posterior interventricular artery

In the coronary circulation, the posterior interventricular artery (PIV, PIA, or PIVA), most often called the posterior descending artery (PDA), is an artery running in the posterior interventricular sulcus to the apex of the heart where it meets with the anterior interventricular artery or also known as Left Anterior Descending artery. It supplies the posterior third of the interventricular septum. The remaining anterior two-thirds is supplied by the anterior interventricular artery which is a septal branch of the left anterior descending artery, which is a branch of left coronary artery.

It is typically a branch of the right coronary artery (70%, known as right dominance). Alternately, the PIV can be a branch of the circumflex coronary artery (10%, known as left dominance) which itself is a branch of the left coronary artery. It can also be supplied by an anastomosis of the left and right coronary artery (20%, known as co-dominance).Variants have been reported.The anatomical position of the artery is not really posterior, but inferior. The terminology posterior is based on viewing the heart from the "Valentine" position, not by the heart's actual position in the body.

Right coronary artery

In the coronary circulation, the right coronary artery (RCA) is an artery originating above the right cusp of the aortic valve, at the right aortic sinus in the heart. It travels down the right coronary sulcus, towards the crux of the heart. It branches into the posterior descending artery and the right marginal artery. Although rare, several anomalous courses of the right coronary artery have been described including origin from the left aortic sinus.At the origin of the RCA is the conus artery.

In addition to supplying blood to the right ventricle (RV), the RCA supplies 25% to 35% of the left ventricle (LV).

In 85% of patients (Right Dominant), the RCA gives off the posterior descending artery (PDA). In the other 15% of cases (Left Dominant), the PDA is given off by the left circumflex artery. The PDA supplies the inferior wall, ventricular septum, and the posteromedial papillary muscle.

The RCA also supplies the SA nodal artery in 60% of people. The other 40% of the time, the SA nodal artery is supplied by the left circumflex artery.

Valve of inferior vena cava

The valve of the inferior vena cava (eustachian valve) is a venous valve that lies at the junction of the inferior vena cava and right atrium.

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