The common carotid arteries differ in length and in their mode of origin. The right begins at the bifurcation of the innominate artery behind the sternoclavicular joint and is confined to the neck. The left springs from the highest part of the arch of the aorta to the left of, and on a plane posterior to the innominate artery, and therefore consists of a thoracic and a cervical portion. The thoracic portion of the left common carotid artery ascends from the arch of the aorta through the superior mediastinum to the level of the left sternoclavicular joint, where it is continuous with the cervical portion. The right common carotid originates in the neck from the brachiocephalic trunk; the left from the aortic arch in the thorax. These split into the external and internal carotid arteries at the upper border of the thyroid cartilage, at around the level of the fourth cervical vertebra. The left common carotid artery is divided into a thoracic (chest) part and a cervical (neck) part. The average diameters of the common carotids in adult males and females are 6.5 mm and 6.1 mm respectively.
In the chest
Only the left common carotid artery has a substantial presence in the thorax. It originates directly from the aortic arch, and travels upward through the superior mediastinum to the level of the left sternoclavicular joint. During the thoracic part of its course, the left common carotid artery is related to the following structures: In front, it is separated from the manubrium of the sternum by the sternohyoid and sternothyroid muscles, the anterior portions of the left pleura and lung, the left brachiocephalic vein, and the remains of the thymus; behind, it lies on the trachea, esophagus, left recurrent laryngeal nerve, and thoracic duct. To its right side below is the brachiocephalic trunk, and above, the trachea, the inferior thyroid veins, and the remains of the thymus; to its left side are the left vagus and phrenic nerves, left pleura, and lung. The left subclavian artery is posterior and slightly lateral to it.
In the neck
The common carotid arteries pass obliquely upward, from behind the sternoclavicular joint to the level of the upper border of the thyroid cartilage, where it divides to the external and internal carotid arteries. At the lower neck the two common carotid arteries are separated from each other by a very narrow interval which contains the trachea; but at the upper part, the thyroid gland, the larynx and pharynx separate the two arteries. The common carotid artery is contained in a sheath known as the carotid sheath, which is derived from the deep cervical fascia and encloses also the internal jugular vein and vagus nerve, the vein lying lateral to the artery, and the nerve between the artery and vein, on a plane posterior to both. On opening the sheath, each of these three structures is seen to have a separate fibrous cover. At approximately the level of the fourth cervical vertebra, the common carotid artery splits (“bifurcates” in literature) into an internal carotid artery (ICA) and an external carotid artery (ECA). While both branches travel upward, the internal carotid takes a deeper (more internal) path, eventually travelling up into the skull to supply the brain. The external carotid artery travels more closely to the surface, and sends off numerous branches that supply the neck and face. At the lower part of the neck the common carotid artery is very deeply seated, being covered by the integument, superficial fascia, the platysma muscle, deep cervical fascia, the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the sternohyoid, sternothyroid, and the omohyoid; in the upper part of its course it is more superficial, being covered merely by the integument, the superficial fascia, the platysma, deep cervical fascia, and medial margin of the sternocleidomastoid. When the sternocleidomastoid muscle is drawn backward, the artery is seen to be contained in a triangular space known as the carotid triangle. This space is bounded behind by the sternocleidomastoid, above by the stylohyoid and the posterior belly of the digastric muscle, and below by the superior belly of the omohyoid. This part of the artery is crossed obliquely, from its medial to its lateral side, by the sternocleidomastoid branch of the superior thyroid artery; it is also crossed by the superior and middle thyroid veins (which end in the internal jugular vein); descending in front of its sheath is the descending branch of the hypoglossal nerve, this filament being joined by one or two branches from the cervical nerves, which cross the vessel obliquely. Sometimes the descending branch of the hypoglossal nerve is contained within the sheath. The superior thyroid vein crosses the artery near its termination, and the middle thyroid vein a little below the level of the cricoid cartilage; the anterior jugular vein crosses the artery just above the clavicle, but is separated from it by the sternohyoid and sternothyroid. Behind, the artery is separated from the transverse processes of the cervical vertebrae by the longus colli and longus capitis muscles, the sympathetic trunk being interposed between it and the muscles. The inferior thyroid artery crosses behind the lower part of the vessel. Medially, it is in relation with the esophagus, trachea, and thyroid gland (which overlaps it), the inferior thyroid artery and recurrent laryngeal nerve being interposed; higher up, with the larynx and pharynx. Lateral to the artery, inside the carotid sheath with the common carotid, are the internal jugular vein and vagus nerve. At the lower part of the neck, on the right side of the body, the right recurrent laryngeal nerve crosses obliquely behind the artery; the right internal jugular vein diverges from the artery. On the left side, however, the left internal jugular vein approaches and often overlaps the lower part of the artery. Behind the angle of bifurcation of the common carotid artery is a reddish-brown oval body known as the carotid body. It is similar in structure to the coccygeal body which is situated on the median sacral artery.
After ligature of the common carotid, the collateral circulation can be perfectly established, by the free communication which exists between the carotid arteries of opposite sides, both without and within the cranium, and by enlargement of the branches of the subclavian artery on the side corresponding to that on which the vessel has been tied. The main communications outside the skull take place between the superior and inferior thyroid arteries, and the deep cervical artery and the descending branch of the occipital artery; the vertebral artery takes the place of the internal carotid artery within the cranium.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Common Carotid artery, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0
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