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What is the Brachiocephalic Artery?

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  • Written By: Angela Wagley
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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The brachiocephalic artery is a short artery of the mediastinum that carries the blood supply to the right arm, head, and neck. Branching off of the aortic arch, the brachiocephalic artery divides at the lower neck into the right common carotid artery and the right subclavian artery. It is also called the brachiocephalic trunk, or innominate artery. The term brachiocephalic comes from the Latin words brachium, meaning relating to the arm, and cephalicus, which means relating to the head.

In contrast, there is no brachiocephalic artery for the left side of the body — the left common carotid and left subclavian arteries branch directly off of the aortic arch, but there are two brachiocephalic veins. The brachiocephalic artery runs from the aortic arch to the head. It branches off into the right common carotid artery, which provides blood to the head and neck, and the right subclavian artery, which carries blood to the head and right arm.

An artery is a blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood away from the heart, except for the pulmonary artery, which transfers deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs. Arteries typically can withstand large amounts of pressure. The thick walls of the arteries contain muscle and elastic fibers so that they expand to permit for increases in pressure to help the blood flow evenly.

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Generally, the brachiocephalic artery is made up of four layers. The innermost lining of the artery is called the endothelium. Around the endothelium is an elastic membrane that allows the artery to expand and contract. Next are a layer of smooth muscle and then a layer of connective tissue. The structure of the artery is flexible, while also ensuring that it is strong.

Numerous pathological conditions could affect the arteries. Arteriosclerosis is a hardening of the inner and middle layers of an artery. This can be caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, or normal aging. Atherosclerosis is one type of arteriosclerosis that only affects the innermost lining of the artery. Plaque builds up, hardens on the arterial walls, and blocks the flow of blood, which can lead to heart attack or stroke if the buildup is severe enough.

The most often recommended treatments for atherosclerosis focus on lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, and dietary changes. Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal proteins, and increasing high fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can be important for prevention and treatment. More severe atherosclerosis may require surgery, such as balloon angioplasty or coronary bypass surgery.

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