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What is the Radial Artery?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By emtbasic — On Oct 24, 2011

@winslo2004 - Radial bleeding is pretty hard to control, too. I guess that's why so many people cut their wrists, as opposed to other places, when they are trying to commit suicide. Also because it's easy to reach, I suppose.

There is nothing worse than a cut artery as far as bleeding, because the blood is being pushed by the pumping of the heart. Makes an incredible mess, too. I have been on 911 calls that looked like a scene from a horror movie, and it turned out to really not be that serious of an injury, just a spurting artery.

Things like that are why I recommend that all parents, or really just everyone, take a first aid class. You never know what's going to happen.

By Viktor13 — On Oct 23, 2011

Most people are familiar with the radial pulse, since when you learn to "check someone's pulse" in pretty much any kind of first aid class, or even just watch how they do it in your own doctor's office, that is how it is done.

When I worked with kids, I would often take their minds off of their medical problems (and the ever-present worry that they were going to get a shot) by showing them all of the other places you can check someone's pulse.

Neck, temple, inside the elbow, inside the upper arm, temple, even the tops of your feet if you have good circulation. Kids never got tired of that stuff. A lot of times you'd see their eyes light up and they would laugh and smile when the felt the pulse in a new place. If only their parents were so easy to calm down.

By winslo2004 — On Oct 22, 2011

There is nothing worse than getting an arterial blood gas (ABG) drawn from the radial artery. It's really painful, and for whatever reason it seems to take multiple tries more often than not.

When I was in nursing school, this was my least favorite type of blood draw. And what's really bad is that they usually don't order it unless the person is pretty sick, so it isn't something you can just let go until later most of the time.

By anon160007 — On Mar 14, 2011

very good for non medical group to be educated.

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