External Carotid Artery: Anatomy & Branches

Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson, we will explore the external carotid artery and learn what vessel it stems off of, what structures it feeds with life-giving blood, and how to identify a vampire bite to the external carotid artery versus the jugular vein.

The Carotid Artery

You might know that the common carotid artery and the jugular vein are the two biggest blood vessels on either side of your neck. You might even know that the jugular is a much larger vessel than the common carotid. But did you know that you can identify which of the two vessels a vampire bit by the force with which the blood exits the wound? Now, I suspect that none of us are vampire slayers in our free-time. However, should you come across someone that was bitten, it might be helpful for you to know which vessel was injured when you call 911. So, with that said, let's take a look at how these two vessels differ before we jump into the branch of the common carotid artery known as the external carotid artery.

Carotid versus Jugular

Jugular Vein versus the Common Carotid Artery
Jugular vein versus Carotid Artery

The common carotid artery, being a vessel that receives blood pumping from the heart, experiences much higher pressure on its walls than the jugular vein due to the arteries proximity to the heart. For this reason, arteries always have thicker, more rigid walls than veins as they must withstand the massive pressure of the blood being forced through its lumen (interior space) with every beat. Veins, being the vessels that drain organs and bring blood back to the heart, experience very little of this force as they are so far from the heart. Therefore, if the vampire's victim looks like they are spurting blood in pumping waves from their neck, then it was the carotid that was bitten. If blood is flowing like a river, then it was the jugular vein. Ok, so now that we can diagnose a vampire bite, let's take a moment to discuss some general aspects of the external carotid artery.

Where Does It Come From?

The external carotid artery is one of the two vessels (the other being the internal carotid artery) that branches off of the common carotid artery. The common carotid is the major vessel that supplies oxygen-rich blood to all of the many smaller vessels in your head and around your brain. The internal branch of the carotid artery splits off and travels, you guessed it, internal to the skull. While the external carotid artery travels superficially, or on the outside of the skull. There are quite a few smaller branches that stem off of the external carotid artery to feed different areas of your face and head so let's take a moment to explore what they are and where they go.

The External Carotid Branches

The external carotid artery is like a blood superhighway that has eight main exits that distribute blood flow to other distant areas of the head and face.

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