The right coronary artery supplies blood to a part of the heart. To do this effectively, it branches off into smaller arteries, such as the conus artery and the sinoatrial nodal branch. Each branch has a different role.

Like any other organ, the heart needs to extract oxygen and nutrients from the blood to function properly. Therefore, the right coronary artery plays an important role in keeping the heart working by supplying it with blood.

This article will explain how the right coronary artery works and provide information about its main branches. It will also discuss the health conditions that might affect the right coronary artery.

A doctor looking at a scan of the heart's arteries.Share on Pinterest
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The different organs within a person’s body need a steady supply of nutrients and oxygen to carry out their various functions. This is also true of the heart, whose job is to pump blood around the body.

The coronary arteries allow the heart to pump blood to itself. There is one right and two left coronary arteries, which supply blood to different parts of the heart. The right coronary artery originates from the aorta.

As the name suggests, the right coronary artery supplies the right side of the heart. However, as the right coronary artery splits into different, smaller arteries, it also pumps blood toward the back wall of the left side of the heart.

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A diagram of the heart showing the branches of the right coronary artery. Infographic by Jason Hoffman.

The right coronary artery splits into several major branches, allowing the blood to reach different parts of the heart.

This section outlines the major branches of the right coronary artery.

Conus artery

The conus artery is one of the initial major branches of the right coronary artery. It supplies blood to a part of the heart known as the conus or the infundibulum of the right ventricle.

This artery supplies blood to the right ventricle and to the arteries that travel toward the lungs.

Sinoatrial nodal branch

The sinoatrial nodal branch is also an initial major branch of the right coronary artery. It supplies blood to the sinoatrial node.

The sinoatrial node is located in the heart’s right atrium and contains pacemaker cells that produce an electrical impulse. This impulse causes the heart to contract and pump blood at specific rhythms, which is called the heartbeat.

Right acute marginal branch

This is an important middle branch of the right coronary artery, as it supplies the heart’s right ventricle with blood.

The primary function of the right ventricle is to pump blood to the lungs to get oxygenated.

Posterior interventricular branch

The posterior interventricular branch is also known as the posterior descending artery. This is a lower branch of the right coronary artery.

It can supply blood to the interventricular septum, which separates the right and left sides of the heart.

Posterolateral branches

The posterolateral branch is a lower branch of the right coronary artery. It can supply blood to various locations toward the left of the heart.

There is a lot of variation in the posterior interventricular and posterolateral branches. In around 70% of people, these branches originate solely from the right coronary artery, which scientists call right-dominant coronary circulation.

When these branches originate solely from the left coronary artery, it is left-dominant coronary circulation. When they originate from both, experts call it codominant or balanced.

According to 2021 research, several serious health conditions can develop if there is an issue with the right coronary artery.

Heart disease

If too much plaque builds up within the right coronary artery, the blood may not receive enough nutrients and oxygen to function properly.

This could lead to health issues such as:

Here, learn about whether it is possible to unclog plaque from the arteries.

Coronary artery fistulas

People can have coronary artery fistulas in their right coronary artery.

Scientists define coronary artery fistulas as atypical connections between coronary arteries and other parts of the circulatory system. These include heart chambers and arterial branches.

Coronary artery fistulas can occur in any coronary artery. Right coronary artery fistulas make up around 50–55% of coronary artery fistulas. Left anterior descending artery fistulas comprise around 35–40% of all cases.

Most coronary artery fistulas do not cause any symptoms or complications. However, some coronary artery fistulas can lead to serious conditions, including heart attacks.

Coronary artery aneurysm

A coronary artery aneurysm is a rare condition where the coronary artery widens due to weakness in the arterial wall.

It most commonly occurs in the right coronary artery and typically stems from atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup.

Most aneurysms are harmless and do not cause symptoms. However, in severe cases, aneurysms can rupture the artery wall, causing life threatening internal bleeding.

Coronary artery dissection

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is an uncommon condition in which the inner layer of the artery wall tears.

The right coronary artery has three layers:

  • inner
  • middle
  • outer

When the inner layer tears, it allows blood to enter the inner chamber of the heart. The trapped blood can cause a blockage and extend the tear, which can lead to a heart attack due to blood loss.

SCAD typically occurs suddenly. Symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack and include:

The right coronary artery is a crucial component of the circulatory system. It helps the heart receive oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood, which it pumps to itself via several branches.

Branches include the conus artery and the sinoatrial nodal branch, which supplies blood to the part of the heart that produces the heartbeat.

Some conditions affecting the right coronary artery can be life threatening. However, abnormalities in the arteries are often benign.