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The uterine artery is the blood vessel that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the female reproductive organs, notably the uterus within which a fetus gestates and is born as a baby. The human species cannot propagate without a healthy uterus. That makes the artery that sustains it an important part of the human anatomy.
The human cardiovascular system starts with the heart pumping blood, oxygenated by the lungs, out through the aorta. Some arteries branch off from the aorta and head upward to nourish the brain and the muscles of arms. The bulk of pumped blood descends to the torso until finally splitting into two common iliac arteries, which again split into an external and internal iliac artery. The latter, sometimes still referred as the hypogastric artery, branches to form the various arteries of the abdomen. The uterine artery is one of those.
The uterine artery's primary purpose is to deliver blood to the uterus. The human circulatory system, however, bears some analogy to distributed computer networks. The uterine artery shares vessels and blood flow with the vaginal and cervical arteries. It also converges with the ovarian artery. If any of these arteries malfunction, interconnected collateral blood vessels from the other arteries prevent an organ from shutting down completely.
A healthy uterus helps ensure healthy babies. The uterine artery enlarges during pregnancy to supply the increased demand. To determine the health of the artery, an ultrasonic Doppler waveform of its diastolic pressure is captured during the second trimester. It is a recording of the pulsation of blood flow. If the waveform displays a “hiccup,” one or both of the uterine arteries is said to be notched.
Although occurring in only about 5 percent of pregnancies, arterial notching is indicative of restricted blood flow to the uterus and is potentially serious. It contributes to maternal hypertension. It can affect fetal growth and birth weight. It increases the risk for a condition called preeclampsia, which is characterized by a sudden rise in blood pressure that can lead to prenatal or neo-natal excess bleeding and worse complications. Low-dose aspirin is usually prescribed, and the condition is monitored.
Fertility depends on a healthy uterus. A common concern involving the uterine artery is an abnormal cystic growth called a uterine leiomyoma. Up to 30 percent of women develop a leiomyoma. They are usually benign and of little consequence, with most women experiencing no adverse symptoms and no reproductive complications. A gynecologist can recommend various treatments, including uterine artery embolization (UAE).
Other conditions of the uterine artery might necessitate a hysterectomy. An arteriovenous malformation, such as a fistula or microscopic hole that leaks, is a type of deformity in the structure of the blood vessel. A uterine artery aneurysm is a sudden rupture of the blood vessel. Both are rare.