Definitions

Coronary circulation

Coronary circulation

Coronary circulation is the circulation of blood in the blood vessels that supply blood to and from the heart muscle. Although blood fills the chambers of the heart, the muscle tissue of the heart, or myocardium, is so thick that it requires coronary blood vessels to deliver blood deep into it. The vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to the myocardium are known as coronary arteries. The vessels that remove the deoxygenated blood from the heart muscle are known as coronary veins.

The coronary arteries that run on the surface of the heart are called epicardial coronary arteries. These arteries, when healthy, are capable of autoregulation to maintain 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. (See also: circulatory system.) 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, which is why blockage of these vessels can be so critical.

Coronary anatomy

The exact anatomy of the myocardial blood supply system varies considerably from person to person. A full evaluation of the coronary arteries requires cardiac catheterization or CT coronary angiography.

In general there are two main coronary arteries, the left and right.

Both of these arteries originate from the beginning (root) of the aorta, immediately above the aortic valve. As discussed below, the left coronary artery originates from the left aortic sinus, while the right coronary artery originates from the right aortic sinus.

Variations

Four percent of people have a third, the posterior coronary artery. In rare cases, a person will have one coronary artery that runs 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 descending artery (PDA) and the posterolateral artery (PLA) determines the coronary dominance.

  • If the right coronary artery (RCA) supplies both these arteries, the circulation can be classified as "right-dominant".
  • If the circumflex artery (CX), a branch of the left artery, supplies both these arteries, the circulation can be classified as "left-dominant".
  • If the RCA supplies the PDA and the CX supplies the PLA, the circulation is known as "co-dominant".

Approximately 60% of the general population are right-dominant, 25% are co-dominant, and 15% are left-dominant.

Blood supply of the papillary muscles

The papillary muscles tether 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 leaks 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.

The anterolateral papillary muscle more frequently receives two blood supplies: left anterior descending (LAD) artery and the left circumflex artery (LCX). 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. 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.

Coronary flow

During contraction of the ventricular myocardium (systole), the subendocardial coronary vessels (the vessels that enter the myocardium) are compressed due to the high intraventricular pressures. However the epicardial coronary vessels (the vessels that run along the outer surface of the heart) remain patent. Because of this, blood flow in the subendocardium stops. As a result most myocardial perfusion occurs during heart relaxation (diastole) when the subendocardial coronary vessels are patent and under low pressure. This contributes to the filling difficulties of the coronary arteries. Compression remains the same. Failure of oxygen delivery via increases in blood flow to meet the increased oxygen demand of the heart results in tissue ischemia, a condition of oxygen debt. Brief ischemia is associated with intense chest pain, known as angina. Severe ischemia can cause the heart muscle to die of oxygen starvation, called 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 majority of vasculature in the body constricts to norepinephrine, a sympathetic neurotransmitter the body uses to increase blood pressure. In the coronary circulation, norepinephrine elicits vasodilation, due to the predominance of beta-adrenergic receptors in the coronary circulation. Agonists of alpha-receptors, such as phenylephrine, elicit very little constriction in the coronary circulation.

Anastomoses

When two arteries of the coronary circulation join, dual blood flow to a certain area of the myocardium occurs. These junctions are called anastomoses. If one coronary artery is obstructed by an artheroma, the second artery is still able to supply oxygenated blood to the myocardium. However this can only occur if the artheroma progresses slowly, giving the anastomoses a chance to proliferate.

See also

References

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