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How Do Arteries Supply Blood to the Body?

what are arteries

Understanding human anatomy can feel confusing and overwhelming. If you or a loved one has issues with arteries, such as plaque buildup and peripheral artery disease (PAD), you may be wondering, “What are arteries, anyway? What do arteries do?”

There are over 100,000 miles’ worth of blood vessels in the average adult human body. How many of these are arteries? What are the other pieces of the blood vessel puzzle? What happens when one of these passageways becomes narrow? 

If you’re concerned that you may have peripheral artery disease or wish to learn more about the arteries of the body, artery function, and how your lifestyle affects your vascular system, our expert vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers can help.


What Are Arteries?

Arteries carry blood throughout the body. To help support arterial blood flow, arteries are tube-shaped and built to withstand the force of blood being pumped from the heart. They contain a smooth inner lining to help blood flow smoothly. The largest and main arteries include the aorta, the carotid artery, the femoral artery, the subclavian artery, and the pulmonary artery. These major arteries in the body branch off into smaller arteries and all arteries are connected. 

The arteries supplying blood to the legs and feet are impacted much more commonly than those leading to the arms and hands when it comes to PAD. The femoral artery supplies blood to the upper legs before becoming the popliteal artery passing through the knee area. The popliteal artery then branches into three arteries: the anterior tibial, peroneal, and posterior tibial, which supply blood to the calves and ankles. 

These arteries then branch into the feet, becoming the dorsal and plantar arteries, along with smaller arteries in the foot. The arteries of the legs, feet, and ankles are the most likely to become clogged with plaque buildup and develop peripheral artery disease.

What Do Arteries Do?

If you’re asking yourself, “Do arteries carry blood away from the heart? Do arteries carry oxygenated blood?” you’re on the right track. The human vascular system is made up of three main components: arteries, veins, and capillaries. The function of arteries is singular: to take oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood away from the heart and deliver it to the rest of the body. The arteries move blood to smaller vessels called arterioles then transfer it into tiny capillaries.

Capillaries pass the oxygen and nutrients from the blood through their thin walls, delivering it to the tissues that need it. Next, they transport the depleted blood to the veins. The veins then take the blood back to the heart and lungs to receive more oxygen and nutrients, and the cycle begins again.

How Arteries Supply Blood Throughout the Body

You may be wondering, “Do arteries have valves? How does the blood flow in the right direction?” The answer is that arterial blood flow does not need valves to support it because of the force of blood pumping from the heart. On the other hand, veins do have valves to keep blood moving back toward the heart instead of away from it. 

However, the rule has two exceptions: two arteries in the body, the aorta and pulmonary artery, have valves, called the aortic and pulmonic valves. Along with the tricuspid and mitral valves, these make up the heart’s four valves, keeping blood flowing in the correct direction. 

Arteries expand and contract to accommodate the blood as it pumps from the heart. Over time, however, high blood pressure can damage the smooth inner lining of the arteries, allowing plaque to stick to the walls more easily. This can also cause the arteries to become stiffer. 

Certain lifestyle choices and risk factors, such as smoking, genetics, and type 2 diabetes, can put people at a higher risk of developing issues with artery health. Arteries also naturally stiffen with age, making it even more important to keep arterial health in mind when making lifestyle choices. 

Arterial Health & Vascular Diseases

In order to keep the arteries healthy and able to do their job well, it’s important to avoid arterial disease and keep the arteries of the body healthy by eating a nutritious diet, avoiding smoking, and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol within a normal range. Any habits that cause the arteries in the body to sustain damage can lead to vascular diseases such as peripheral artery disease.

With PAD, plaque buildup in the arteries leading to the lower extremities causes restricted blood flow, negatively impacting the function of the arteries. Without enough nutrients and oxygen-rich blood, the legs, feet, and ankles can develop problems. Common symptoms of PAD include cramping in the legs while walking that fades while at rest (intermittent claudication) and slowed toenail growth. If PAD progresses untreated, the arteries become more and more blocked until blood flow is severely restricted or, in the worst cases, completely cut off. 

This can lead to open, non-healing wounds on the lower limbs or even gangrene and tissue death. This is why it’s important to pay attention to your arterial health. If you have any of the PAD risk factors or are showing warning signs of clogged arteries, reaching out to one of our trusted vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers is a key step in the right direction. 

Schedule a Consultation With USA Vascular Centers

If you’re concerned about the healthy function of your arteries, we’re here to help. At USA Vascular Centers, our doctors can provide a personalized treatment plan to meet you where you are in your journey toward arterial health. Our physicians can diagnose PAD with an ankle-brachial index test or an angiogram, and they are highly skilled in performing minimally invasive procedures such as angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy, all of which work to open narrowed arteries. 

The major arteries in the body and all aspects of artery function deserve care, and we encourage you to reach out to us. Our expert vascular doctors can create a personalized care plan tailored to your specific needs. To begin your journey to arterial health, schedule your appointment online at one of our state-of-the-art outpatient centers or give us a call at 888.773.2193 today.



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