Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood and nutrients to the organs of the body. In the heart, these are called coronary arteries.
These arteries originate from the aorta, the largest artery in the body, and run along the surface of the heart muscle itself. There are two coronary arteries, the left and right. The left coronary artery, however, immediately divides into two large branches, named the anterior descending and the circumflex. That’s why it is commonplace for physicians to talk about the three coronary arteries (the right, anterior descending, and circumflex), although in fact there are only two.
The coronary arteries spread out over the surface of the heart and, at various points, give off branches that penetrate deep into the heart muscle, providing the tremendous amount of blood flow required during increased heart activity.
Unfortunately, the coronary arteries are subject to the development of atherosclerosis, a process that results in the development of blockages in the arteries and impairment of blood flow to the heart muscle. It is this blockage formation that results in the most common heart disease in our society, coronary artery disease. Patients with coronary artery disease develop chest pain during exercise (angina pectoris) due to the inability of the arteries to deliver adequate blood flow to the heart muscle.
When the coronary arteries are blocked, it is impossible to clear them with medication. It is possible, however, to use medicine to attempt to increase the blood flow around the blockage by relaxing the artery itself. It is necessary in some patients to mechanically alter the blockage, either with a balloon procedure, called coronary angioplasty, or by coronary artery bypass surgery, in order to provide better blood flow.