The brachial artery is an artery which supplies blood to the arm and hand. This superficial artery is commonly used to take blood pressure and pulse measurements, because it is conveniently accessible to health care providers. Its superficial position can make it vulnerable to injury and damage, as for example when someone breaks the humerus, which can potentially cause trauma to the brachial artery. Concerns about trauma to this artery lead health care providers to be very careful when assessing patients who may be at risk for such trauma.
The anatomy of the brachial artery varies slightly from person to person, but as a general rule, it runs from the shoulder to the elbow. It originates in the axillary artery, turning into the brachial artery at the teres major muscle. When the artery hits the antecubital fossa of the elbow, it bifurcates into the ulnar and radial arteries. This bifurcation can appear above or below the elbow in some people.
Like other arteries in the body, the brachial artery brings a supply of freshly oxygenated blood to the cells. The cells use the oxygen and various nutrients in the blood, with corresponding veins carrying blood which has been depleted of oxygen back up to the heart so that it can be pushed through the lungs for a fresh payload of oxygen. A number of issues can impair circulation of the blood, including occlusions of major artery such as the brachial artery, weakening of the walls of the blood vessel, or blood clotting disorders.
The brachial pulse may be taken by a health care provider who wants to get a quick read on a patient's pulse to assess his or her condition. In blood pressure measurements, the blood pressure cuff is placed on the upper arm, with the stethoscope being placed on the brachial artery to allow the health care provider to take a reading. In some patients, this artery can be challenging to find because it moves a bit and artery anatomy can be slightly variable.
Any time trauma occurs to the upper arm, it can put the brachial artery at risk. This includes fractures of the arm, crush injuries, puncture wounds, and deep cuts. Profuse bleeding can be a sign that the artery has been injured, and that the patient requires immediate medical intervention even if the injury seems low level enough to handle at home.