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What is the Subclavian Artery?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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The subclavian artery is a large, major blood vessel that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the chest and upper limbs of the body. There are right and left subclavian arteries, and they received their name from the fact that they are both located under the clavicles, commonly known as the collar bones. On the right side of the body, the subclavian artery originates as a branch off the brachiocephalic artery or trunk, also known as the innominate artery. Branching off directly from the aortic arch is the left subclavian artery. Although the right artery doesn't branch directly from the aorta like the left does, its origin, the brachiocephalic artery, is a direct branch from the aorta.

Different sections of the subclavian artery have different names. Starting from the origin of the right artery, which is the brachiocephalic artery, and extending to the outer border or edge of the first rib is the subclavian artery. The section that extends from the edge of the first rib to the axilla or armpit is called the axillary artery. Extending from the axillary artery to the bend of the elbow is the division known as the brachial artery, and from the elbow it bifurcates or branches downward into two arteries — the radial and the ulna. Regardless of the various names, all sections are essentially a part of the right or left subclavian artery.

Arteries differ in size as they branch off in all directions to supply oxygenated blood to the entire body. The smallest of them are called arterioles and the largest is the aorta — the origin of all branches that comprise this entire network of blood vessels responsible for transporting blood away from the heart. All arteries except the pulmonary ones carry oxygenated blood away from the heart.

There is a significant amount of pressure in arteries because of the pumping of the heart, and this pressure can be felt at various locations throughout the body. When a major artery lies close to the surface of the skin and crosses over a bone, each surge of a beating heart can be felt; this essentially is what a pulse is. When checking for adequate circulation in a person, a health care provider often will feel for the pulse generated in the radial artery, which is the branch of the subclavian artery located in the forearm. In infants, it is the brachial pulse — the pulse in the brachial artery located in the upper arm — that usually is registered.

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