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Major Blood Vessels Leading to the Heart: Superior Vena Cava, Inferior Vena Cava & Coronary Sinus

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  • 0:41 Veins
  • 1:38 Venae Cavae
  • 2:29 Superior Vena Cava
  • 3:32 Inferior Vena Cava
  • 4:33 Coronary Sinus
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

In this lesson, you will learn about the main blood vessel that returns blood to the heart called the Venae Cavae. You'll also learn about its two sections: the Superior and Inferior Vena Cava. You will then discover the special drainage system for the heart called the Coronary Sinus.

Major Veins

Your circulatory system is a sophisticated transportation and delivery system. It's an impressive design, and it works hard every minute of every day to deliver freshly-oxygenated blood to every cell of your body. But, just like a delivery truck that has been out all day delivering packages, your blood eventually runs out of gas. Of course, your body doesn't run on gasoline, but it does rely on oxygen, and therefore, your entire blood supply must circulate through the heart and to lungs many times a day to replenish its oxygen supply. In this lesson, we'll learn about the main blood vessels that return deoxygenated blood to the heart.

We cannot talk about blood returning to the heart without talking about veins, because as we learned previously, veins are the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. Some veins are easily seen just under the surface of your skin. In fact, you can look at your wrist right now and see many veins that drain the blood out of your hand; they will sometimes look bluish in color. However, other veins are located deep within your body, and these deep veins tend to follow the course of the major arteries. This is a nice fact when you're learning anatomy, because with few exceptions, the naming of veins is the same as the accompanying arteries. For example, the term 'renal' refers to 'kidneys,' and you have renal arteries that supply blood to the kidneys, and you have renal veins that drain blood away from the kidneys.

Location of the venae cavae in the body
Venae Cavae Diagram

Venae Cavae

We learned that your major arteries branch off of the aorta and continue to branch to supply blood to all regions of your body. Your veins do the opposite. They drain your body tissues, and then merge to make larger and larger veins and finally converge to form the largest veins in the body, called the venae cavae. The word 'venae' is Latin for 'vein,' and the word 'cavae' is Latin for 'hollow cavity.' Because the venae cavae is your largest vein, you can recall this term by thinking of the venae cavae as the vein with the biggest cavity. The venae cavae has two divisions: the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava, and these divisions both return blood to the right atrium of the heart. Let's take a closer look at these major veins.

Superior Vena Cava

The superior vena cava is found in the upper chest. From this picture, you can see that it looks like a drain that could be seen in the plumbing under your kitchen sink. This is a good way to think about the superior vena cava, because its job is to drain (or return) deoxygenated blood straight down into the right atrium. Its name makes it is easy to remember what areas of the body it drains, because it drains structures in the superior part of the body including the head, neck and arms. Therefore, if we take into consideration the superior vena cava's appearance and name, we can easily define it as the large vein that returns deoxygenated blood to the heart from the head and arms. The job of the superior vena cava is simple, and like many other major veins in the body, it is nothing more than a transportation tube. This particular tube provides the blood with a direct pathway to the right atrium of the heart, where it is pumped into the lungs to 'refuel' with more oxygen.

The superior vena cava returns blood to the right atrium of the heart
Superior Vena Cava

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