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Iliac arteries

The blood supply to the body arises from the aorta, the main outflow of the left ventricle of the heart. The abdominal aorta gives rise to two common iliac arteries at its termination, which then further divided into the external and internal iliac arteries. These two arteries supply the abdomen, pelvis and lower limb.

In this article, we will discuss the anatomy and clinical relevance of the common iliac artery. We will also conclude with a summary and some review questions to test the reader’s understanding of the article content.

Key facts about the iliac arteries
Common iliac artery Source: abdominal aorta
Branches: internal iliac artery, external iliac artery
External iliac artery Branches: inferior epigastric, deep circumflex iliac and femoral arteries
Supply area: part of the abdominal wall and the lower limb.
Internal iliac artery Branches: Iliolumbar, Lateral sacral, superior and inferior Gluteal, internal Pudendal, Inferior vesical (often vaginal in females), Middle rectal, Obturator, Superior vesical and Uterine (in females only) arteries
Mnemonic: I Love Going Places In My Own Sexy Underwear
Supply area: sphincters, reproductive organs and pelvic viscera
  1. Common iliac artery
  2. External iliac artery
  3. Internal iliac artery
    1. Mnemonics
  4. Clinical points
  5. Sources
+ Show all

Common iliac artery

The abdominal aorta divides at the level of the L4 vertebral body, and forms the two common iliac arteries. The common iliac arteries run laterally, and divide into the external and internal iliac arteries anterior to the sacroiliac joints.

Iliac ateries (diagram)

The internal iliac descends into the pelvis to supply the sphincters, reproductive organs and pelvic viscera. The external iliac will continue to run inferiorly, and pass deep to the inguinal ligament. At this point the artery is renamed as the femoral artery, which goes on to supply the lower limb.

As the common iliac artery descends, it runs along the medial border of the psoas major muscle. They have peritoneum in front, and is crossed near their bifurcation by the ureter and spermatic nerves and vessels. The arteries are accompanied by the common iliac veins along their course which lie posterior. The right common iliac is slightly longer than left, the average length of common iliac arteries is 2.5 inches.

External iliac artery

The external iliac artery arises from the division of the common iliac artery, anterior to the sacroiliac joints. The external iliac artery then continues to pass under the inguinal ligament and is renamed the femoral artery once it emerges. It runs medial to the femoral nerve and lateral to the common iliac vein.

Iliac vessels in a cadaver

External iliac artery supplies the part of the abdominal wall and the lower limb. It has three major branches: inferior epigastric, deep circumflex iliac and femoral arteries

Learn more about the main arteries of the lower limb with our study unit:

Internal iliac artery

The internal iliac artery arises from the division of the common iliac artery. The vessel runs posterior to the ureter in its upper section, posterior to the internal iliac vein along its entire course, posterior to the lumbosacral trunk as it passes the sacral foramina. It is separated from the psoas major muscle by the internal iliac vein.

How to remember all the definitions, courses of the vessels and their branches? Kenhub helps you learn anatomy effectively and cut your studying time in half!

Internal iliac artery bifurcates into the anterior and posterior trunks. The anterior trunk has seven branches that supply the pelvis and perineum. They are the obturator, inferior gluteal, superior vesical, uterine (only in females), inferior vesical (often vaginal in females), middle rectal and internal pudendal arteries. The branches of the posterior trunk are the iliolumbar, lateral sacral and superior gluteal arteries.


There are a few mnemonics, that can make learning internal iliac artery branches a bit easier!

Use ' I Love Going Places In MOwn Sexy Underwear' for all the branches:

  • Ileolumbar a.
  • Lateral sacral a.
  • Gluteal (superior and inferior) a.
  • Pudendal (internal) a.
  • Inferior vesical a. (often vaginal a. in females)
  • Middle rectal a.
  • Obturator a.
  • Superior vesical a.
  • Uterine a. (female only)

Often My Sexy Underwear Is Inside Pants' will help you remember the branches of the anterior trunk:

  • Obturator a.
  • Middle rectal a.
  • Superior vesical a.
  • Uterine a. (female only)
  • Inferior gluteal a.
  • Inferior vesical a. (uterine in females) a.
  • Internal Pudendal a.

And 'PILS' is for the branches of the posterior trunk:

  • Posterior branch:
  • Iliolumbar a.
  • Lateral sacral a.
  • Superior gluteal a.

You can also enhance your learning of the internal iliac artery anatomy with our study units:.

Iliac arteries: want to learn more about it?

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