Table of Contents
Definition of Aorta Artery
The largest blood vessel in the body, the aorta arises from the left ventricle.
At its widest point the aorta is about one and a half inches in diameter.
As the aorta leaves the heart it ascends to curve behind the right atrium.
The first arteries to branch from the base of the ascending aorta are the right and left coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle (myocardium) with blood. Branching from the arch as the aorta crests over the heart are the three arteries that carry blood to the upper body:
- the brachiocephalic artery (also called the innominate artery), which transports blood to the right arm and right side of the BRAIN, head, and face
- the left common carotid artery, which transports blood to the left side of the brain, head, and face
- the left subclavian artery, which transports blood to the left arm
The aorta then crosses over the pulmonary arteries and drops behind the heart to descend through the chest and into the abdomen, aligned along the front of the spine, branching into the iliac arteries at the top of the pelvis. Numerous arteries branch from the descending aorta along its passage from the chest to the abdomen, supplying vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, stomach, and intestines.
Acquired cardiovascular conditions that can affect the aorta include atherosclerosis, aneurysm, and aortic stenosis. A number of congenital malformations also can affect the aorta, including aortic coarctation, tetralogy of Fallot, and transposition of the great arteries (TPA). Most aortic conditions require surgical repair.
For further discussion of the aorta within the context of cardiovascular structure and function, please see the overview section “The Cardiovascular System.”