The radial artery is one of several large blood vessels in the body that function like pipes through which oxygenated blood flows from the heart. It forms part of the circulatory system which consists of many vessels of various sizes that branch out from head to toe. Some of these arteries lie close to the surface of the skin, others are deep-seated. The radial artery itself is a branch coming from another blood vessel known as the brachial artery, which forms a fork just below the bend of the elbow. One branch of the fork delivers blood to the radial side of the forearm; the other supplies blood to the ulnar side of the forearm.
A radial artery is the main blood vessel of the forearm that carries oxygenated blood from the heart through this part of the arm, the wrist, and on to the fingers. It branches out again in several places along this part of the body. The radial recurrent branch supplies blood to the upper forearm while the muscular branch nourishes the midsection. In the lower part of the forearm, the oxygenated blood is received via the palmar carpal and the superficial palmar branches.
Once the radial artery reaches the wrist, it branches twice more; the dorsal carpal and the first dorsal metacarpal deliver blood to the wrist. This main blood vessel of the forearm has many branches once it reaches the hand. The thumb receives blood via the branch known as the princeps pollicis, the index finger is supplied by the radialis indicis, and the palm is nourished by the deep palmar arch. Finally, the radial artery gives blood to the rest of the hand through the tip of each finger through distal arteries known as the palmar metacarpal, perforating, and recurrent branches.
The radial artery is most commonly the vessel from which blood is taken to perform arterial blood gas (ABG) testing. This procedure helps doctors to assess how well the lungs are functioning in patients who have respiratory diseases such as asthma and cystic fibrosis. Students of cardiology and other fields of medicine learn that the radial artery is one of the main blood vessels in the body in which the pulse can be felt. When a physician or nurse takes a patient's pulse by pressing two fingers on the inner surface of the wrist, he is registering the pulse of this artery.