What is the Aorta?
To understand the aorta, it helps to have a good sense of how blood moves throughout the body.
Blood travels through the body along two different types of pathways: veins and arteries.
Veins bring blood cells to the heart, where they can pick up oxygen that’s been brought in by the lungs.
Arteries take blood cells away from the heart, where they can deliver that oxygen to the rest of the body.
The Aorta is the first and largest part of the artery system. All smaller arteries come off branches of the aorta, like exits on a highway.
Where is the Aorta?
The aorta runs right down the middle of your body. But it doesn’t take a completely straight path.
It starts at the aortic valve, a special flap that connects the heart to the aorta. The aortic valve’s job is to keep blood from flowing backwards after it’s left the heart.
From there, the aorta stretches upwards, towards the neck. This section is called the ascending aorta.
Instead of continuing upwards, the aorta then forms a curve called the aortic arch.
By the end of that curve, the aorta is directed downwards. This portion is called the descending aorta.
The descending aorta travels down the chest and becomes the abdominal aorta when it crosses the diaphragm. The abdominal aorta comes to an end just above the groin, where it splits into two arteries, one for each leg. These are called the iliac arteries.
Why is the Aorta Important?
The aorta is important because it gives the body access to the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive.
The heart itself gets oxygen from arteries that come off the ascending aorta.
The head (including the brain), neck and arms get oxygen from arteries that come off the aortic arch.
The stomach, intestines, kidneys and other vital organs get oxygen from arteries that come off the abdominal aorta.
How Can You Keep Your Aorta Healthy?
Your aorta can be damaged by high cholesterol and high blood pressure, so anything you do to keep those risk factors under control will also help you maintain a healthy aorta.
That includes eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and avoiding cigarettes.