How the Heart Gets Oxygen

The heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout the body. Like other muscles, the heart needs a steady supply of oxygen to function. Blood carries oxygen

to the heart and the rest of the body through blood vessels called arteries. In the heart, the coronary arteries supply blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. If the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen, angina or a heart attack can result.

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Healthy Coronary Arteries

Coronary arteries wrap around the surface of the heart. Their job is to supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. The amount of oxygen the heart needs depends on how hard it’s working. For example, exercise makes the heart beat faster, increasing the muscle’s need for oxygen. Healthy arteries can easily meet this need. They have smooth, flexible walls that can accommodate changes in blood flow.

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Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease starts when the lining of a coronary artery is damaged. This is often due to risk factors, such as smoking or high blood cholesterol. Plaque (a fatty material composed of cholesterol and other particles) then builds up within the artery wall. This buildup (called atherosclerosis) narrows the space inside the artery. It also makes artery walls less able to expand. At times when the heart needs more oxygen, not enough blood can get through to meet the need. This can lead to angina.

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