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Aorta

Introduction

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It is an artery that directly arises from the heart itself and descends through the thorax and into the abdomen. All the arteries of the body, save the pulmonary arteries, stem from the aorta or one of its main branches. This article aims to highlight the path of the aorta from its origins up until the main branches in both the thoracic and abdominal cavities. It should be noted that there are three ways of systematically approaching the aorta and each of these learning strategies will be mentioned here.

Aorta - ventral view

Aorta - ventral view

The Regional Approach

This is the most simple way of dividing the aorta and its branches, however it is suggested that unless you are a seasoned anatomist, one of the other methods should be looked at first, for clarity. Here, the aorta and its main branches are divided into the thoracic aorta and the abdominal aorta, which happen to be separated by the diaphragm.

Recommended video: Thoracic aorta
Anatomy and branches of the thoracic (descending) aorta.

The Seven Sections Approach

This is the most complex of the three strategies, but for first time students it is comprehensive and will give any anatomist a solid base of aortic knowledge. The aorta is divided up into seven sections which are listed below:

Aortic Valve

The aortic valveis situated in the posterior superior wall of the left ventricle.

Aortic valve - lateral-left view

Aortic valve - lateral-left view

Aortic Root

The aortic root exists between the aortic valve and the sinotubular junction.

Ascending Aorta

The ascending aorta can be seen between the sinotubular junction and the brachiocephalic artery, which is the largest of the aortic branches. The ascending aorta is contained within the pericardial sac and is covered by a visceral layer of serous pericardium.

Ascending aorta - ventral view

Ascending aorta - ventral view

Aortic Arch

The aortic arch or transverse aorta gives three branches which supply the head and upper limbs. They are:

Aortic arch - ventral view

Aortic arch - ventral view

Thoracic Aorta

The descending thoracic aorta runs between the left subclavian artery and the first branch of the abdominal aorta which is the celiac artery. It is situated posteriorly in the thorax, close to the vertebral column to which it offers a blood supply.

Thoracic aorta - lateral-left view

Thoracic aorta - lateral-left view

Abdominal Aorta

The abdominal aorta starts with the celiac artery and continues with the superior mesenteric artery, the left and right renal arteries and the inferior mesenteric artery. It supplies all the major organs of the abdomen.

Abdominal aorta - ventral view

Abdominal aorta - ventral view

Thoracoabdominal Aorta

The thoracoabdominal aorta is the last section, which starts at the level of the last abdominal branch and ends at the bifurcation of the aorta into the left and right common iliac arteries.

The Aortic Directions Approach

This final method is both simple and yet detailed. It is based on the directions of the aorta, its ascension, arch and descending part, with no regard for which somatic region it is in or what major branches are formed. It does however lack sufficient details about the abdominal pathway of the aorta and for that reason it is suggested that this method becomes a secondary means if not combined with the seven sections approach.

Ascending Aorta

The ascending aorta starts at the aortic valve and finishes at the level of the second right sternocostal joint.

Aortic Arch

The aortic arch begins from the end of the previous section and continues to ascend into an arch which goes to the left of the mediastinum. It can be found in front of the right pulmonary artery and the bifurcation of the trachea. It surpasses the base of the right lung and finishes at the level of the thoracic vertebra T4.

Recommended video: Aortic arch
Anatomy, branches, function and definition of the aortic arch.

Descending Aorta

The descending aorta begins at the level of the T4 vertebra and descends on the left side of the thoracic vertebrae from T5 until T12. It runs behind the base of the left lung and the pericardium, entering the abdomen via the aortic hiatus of the diaphragm when it reaches T12. Its branches include:

  • the bronchial artery
  • the pericardial artery
  • the superior phrenic artery
  • the esophageal artery
  • the posterior intercostal artery
  • the subcostal artery.

Summary

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It is an artery that directly arises from the heart itself and descends through the thorax and into the abdomen. All the arteries of the body, save the pulmonary arteries, stem from the aorta or one of its main branches.

This great vessel is divided up into seven sections according to the 'seven sections approach', which is the most detailed one, as follows:

  • aortic valve
  • aortic root
  • ascending aorta
  • aortic arch
  • thoracic aorta
  • abdominal aorta
  • thoracoabdominal aorta
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Show references

References:

  • Frank H. Netter, MD, Atlas of Human Anatomy, Fifth Edition, Saunders - Elsevier, Chapter 3 Thorax, Subchapter 23 Mediastinum, Guide Thorax: Mediastinum Page 121.
  • Michael Schuenke et al., Atlas of Anatomy: Neck and Internal Organs, First Edition, Thieme, Thorax Chapter 2 Thorax and Chapter 3 Abdomen and Pelvis, Blood Vessels, Page 114 to 115 and 262 to 263.
  • Anatomy of the Aorta and Heart. Cedars-Sinai.

Author:

  • Dr. Alexandra Sieroslawska

Illustrators:

  • Aorta - ventral view - Begoña Rodriguez
  • Ascending aorta - ventral view- Yousun Koh
  • Aortic arch - ventral view - Yousun Koh
  • Thoracic aorta - lateral-left view - Yousun Koh
  • Abdominal aorta - ventral view - Irina Münstermann
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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