Gray's Anatomy first illustrated the femoral artery in 1910. Even then, the famous medical text could not show a full dissection of the vessel. This large artery is mostly located in the thigh region and is responsible for supplying much of the blood to the leg. At the back of the knee, the femoral artery becomes the popliteal artery.
Branching out from the common iliac artery, external iliac arteries supply the pelvic organs and the gluteal region. After traveling along the psoas major, a long muscle connected to the lumbar spine that skirts the pelvic edge, this artery becomes the inferior epigastric artery and the deep circumflex artery, both of which provide blood to the lower abdomen. One external iliac passes underneath the inguinal ligament on each side, becoming the femoral artery.
The femoral triangle, or Scarpa's triangle, is in the upper thigh. The borders of this structure are the sartorius, the longest muscle in the body, the adductor longus muscles ,and the inguinal ligament at the top. This triangle is important because essential structures pass through it, including the femoral artery, whose branches come from the triangle's base.
The profunda femoris or deep femoral artery is the largest branch of this vital vessel. It provides blood to the thigh's extensors, flexors, and adductors. Beginning on the side of the femoral artery, it travels deeper, towards the middle of the femur, weaving through the adductor muscles to form a connection between the popliteus muscles branches.
Rising from the profunda femoris to pierce the adductor muscles are three perforating arteries. The first runs from the flat muscle in the inner thigh, the pectineus, to the adductor longus, the thigh's skeletal muscle. The second runs along the upper part of the adductor brevis muscle, while the final perforating artery travels beneath the adductor brevis and through the adductor magnus, which looks like a large triangle. These three arteries provide blood to the middle and back thigh muscles.
The smaller superficial branches of the femoral arteries include the epigastric and iliac circumflex. The superficial epigastric artery goes up to the abdominal pelvic region, which includes the navel, and provides blood to superficial abdominal wall structures, such as the skin and fascia. The superficial iliac circumflex is connected to the iliac spine and provides blood to certain parts of the groin, including the external covering and lymph nodes.
The pudendal arteries are femoral artery branches that provide blood to parts of the genital region. The superficial external pudendal artery emerges from the femoral sheath to provide blood to the skin of the penis and scrota in males, and to the female labia. The deep version of this artery branches out to provide blood the same areas.
After entering the shallow space behind the knee, the popliteal fossa, the femoral artery becomes the popliteal artery, which provides blood to the knee, patella, and lower extremities as well as portions of the hamstring muscles. It branches off into the various genicular and sural arteries. Genicular arteries are a collection of six arteries in the legs that connect to the knee region, while sural arteries provide blood to the calf.
Accompanying the femoral artery is the femoral vein, which carries deoxygenated blood to the inferior vena cava. Both vessels are enclosed in the crural sheath, which is a combination of three structures. The inguinal ligament is a soft tissue suspender-like ligament in the groin. The abdominal fascia are sheets of protective, stabilizing tissue, and the transverse fascia is a thin abdominal membrane.
The femoral artery can become blocked for a few reasons. One common cause is atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque along the artery walls. The plaque not only narrows the channel, but it also makes the artery less pliable. This occlusion can cause intermittent claudication -- pain in the leg during activity. Surgeons can remove the blockage to improve circulation.
As mentioned, the femoral artery is considered a great portal to vital parts of the body. Cardiac catheterization, a treatment for many heart conditions, uses a long thin tube that can be inserted in a variety of arteries, including the groin. The femoral artery is the preferred entrance for a cardiac catheter, because of its larger diameter. A 6F catheter, which measures 2 millimeters, is the most common gauge size for this type of procedure. The average femoral artery diameter ranges from 2.5 to 9.5 millimeters.
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