What is the radial artery?
The radial artery is a blood vessel that supplies blood to the forearm (lower part of the arm) and hand. Arteries carry blood out to the body. This blood is oxygenated (carrying oxygen from your lungs to other body parts).
The radial artery is part of a network of blood vessels that circulate blood to the heart and the rest of the body. Healthcare providers use the radial artery to perform heart tests and procedures.
What is the purpose of the radial artery?
As part of the circulatory system, the radial artery supplies blood from the heart to the forearm. There are many radial artery branches. They supply oxygenated blood to the:
- Elbow joint.
- Forearm muscles.
- Index fingers and thumbs.
- Radial nerve (controls arm and hand movements and sensations).
- Wrist (carpal) bones and joints.
Where is the radial artery?
The radial artery runs on the inside of the forearm from the elbow to the thumb. The artery lies just under the surface of the skin. You may be able to see the blue or purple vein inside your wrist where the artery brings blood to the thumb.
What are the radial artery branches?
The radial artery is one branch of the brachial artery, a major blood vessel in the upper arm. At the elbow joint, the brachial artery branches into the radial artery and the ulnar artery.
The radial and ulnar arteries run parallel to each other down the forearm into the hand. They supply blood to the forearm, hands and fingers.
Conditions and Disorders
What conditions and disorders affect the radial artery?
The radial artery is a superficial artery, meaning it is nearer the surface. It isn’t prone to plaque buildup that causes narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis) like some major blood vessels.
People who get catheter procedures through the radial artery have a slightly higher risk of blockages (occlusions). Blockages may lead to nerve damage or numbness in the hand and fingers. Less than 3% of the time, a problem with the radial artery leads to carpal tunnel syndrome.
How do healthcare providers use the radial artery?
Healthcare providers often perform heart tests and procedures through the radial artery. These transradial access procedures offer an alternative to access through the femoral artery in the groin.
Transradial access may bleed less and cause less discomfort than femoral access. Recovery after a transradial access procedure is often faster, too.
Providers also use the radial artery to:
- Check your pulse and heart rate (by placing fingers on the skin above the radial artery and counting heartbeats).
- Draw blood to test for oxygen and carbon dioxide levels (arterial blood gas).
- More precisely measure blood pressure (arterial cannulation).
- Perform kidney dialysis through an arteriovenous (AV) fistula.
How can I protect my radial artery?
These steps can keep the radial artery and the rest of your circulatory system healthy:
- Be physically active most days of the week.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Quit smoking.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I talk to a doctor?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Hand or arm numbness after a transradial procedure.
- Inability to grip and hold onto items.
- Loss of hand strength or sensation.
- Unexplained tingling in the hand or forearm.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The radial artery sends oxygenated blood to the lower arm and hand. Healthcare providers use the radial artery to perform noninvasive (nonsurgical) heart tests and procedures like heart catheterizations. Providers also use the radial artery to perform heart bypass surgery. If needed, the ulnar artery in the forearm can take over for a damaged or missing radial artery.
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