The Anatomy of the Femoral Artery

The artery responsible for circulating blood through the lower limbs

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The femoral artery is a major artery and blood supplier to the lower limbs of the body. The artery stems from the iliac artery, which is located in the pelvis. The femoral artery starts in the lower abdomen and goes through the thigh, which is how blood is circulated through the legs. It ends around the back of the knee, as the artery then becomes a popliteal artery.

Anatomy

The femoral artery comes from the iliac artery after it passes into the femoral triangle. The femoral triangle contains muscles, tissue with varying amounts of fat (known as superficial fascia), connective tissue (known as deep fascia), and skin. Once the iliac artery passes through the femoral triangle it turns into the femoral artery.

The femoral vein lies to the midline side of the femoral artery and is considered a continuation of the popliteal vein. It begins at the gap of the adductor magnus muscle (an inner thigh muscle) and the femur.

The femoral triangle houses the femoral artery, femoral vein, the femoral nerve (which is also located in the thigh) and the femoral lymph nodes (also known as the inguinal lymph nodes) which lie in the groin area.

On top of the femoral triangle lies the femoral sheath, which is an area that extends from the abdominal fascia or tissue. It surrounds the femoral artery, femoral vein, and femoral lymph nodes but does not extend up to the femoral nerve. The femoral sheath’s role is to make sure blood can continue to flow through the artery despite added stress on the area or specific movements that might otherwise restrict blood flow.

Location

The femoral artery is located in the thigh and is on the surface of the adductor magnus and longus muscles. The location of the femoral vein can vary, but it’s usually side-by-side the femoral artery (though it may be deeper in the body) as together the two are crucial to circulating blood through the lower half of the body and back up to the heart.

Branches of the Femoral Artery:

One of the branches from the femoral nerve called the saphenous nerve may also be found next to or lateral from the femoral artery. The vastus medialis muscle, which is part of the quadriceps muscle group, is found to the front side of the femoral artery.

The femoral artery branches off into an artery called profunda femoris artery, otherwise known as the deep femoral artery or deep artery of the thigh. This branch travels deeper and closer to the femur and stays within the thigh area, while the femoral artery travels down to the lower legs. The two branches are joined back together at the gap of the adductor magnus muscle and the femur, which is called the adductor hiatus.

In addition to the profunda femoris artery, the femoral artery branches off into four other branches within the femoral triangle and another in adductor canal, the middle third of the thigh that consists of the highest part of the femoral triangle to the adductor hiatus. The branches in the femoral triangle are the:

  • Superficial epigastric artery
  • Superficial circumflex iliac artery
  • Superficial external pudendal artery
  • Deep external pudendal artery
  • Descending genicular artery

Each of these artery branches helps deliver blood to the surrounding muscle groups and skin surround the leg and thigh areas.

Function

The job of the femoral arteries is to deliver oxygenated blood from the heart to the legs. Once the blood has circulated through, the femoral vein brings the blood (now needing oxygen) back to the heart to circulate through the lungs before being pumped back out to the body through the iliac artery and eventually the femoral artery and its smaller artery branches.

Clinical Significance

As the major artery of the leg, the femoral artery is an important part of the circulatory system.

Access Artery

The femoral artery is often used as a catheter access artery. This makes it possible for a surgeon to have a doorway to a large part of the circulatory system. The arteries are responsible for carrying blood away from the heart through the body and being able to access them can be helpful when running tests that have to do with the function of the heart, brain, kidneys, and limbs.

Because of this access point, the femoral artery is often used for an angiogram⁠—a test to help determine which arteries that supply blood to the heart have become narrowed by using X-rays to see a map of the blood vessels. This access is also helpful during an angioplasty⁠—a procedure that expands the narrow arteries found on the angiogram.

In a certain specific medical situation, a physician may decide to draw blood from an artery instead of a vein. In this case, the femoral artery can serve as a draw point for blood collection.

Femoral Pulse

The femoral artery also provides a femoral pulse which physicians often use to gauge if there are any irregularities with a patient’s circulatory or heart health. If the pulse is too weak, additional tests and diagnostics may be recommended.

Femoral Artery Aneurysm

In some cases, a patient may have a femoral artery aneurysm, which is when there’s danger of one of the walls of the femoral artery ballooning out and possibly bursting due to plaque buildup around the artery wall. This buildup disrupts the flow of blood through the artery, making it narrow in some areas and dilated in others.

A femoral artery blockage can also cause pain in the calf when walking. For some patients, a physician may recommend a procedure called a femoral-popliteal bypass, which uses a piece of a different blood vessel to help bypass the blocked portion of the femoral artery.

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