Medicine:External carotid artery

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Short description: Major artery of the head and neck
External carotid artery
Blausen 0170 CarotidArteries.png
The external carotid artery arises from the common carotid artery and supplies structures in the face and neck.
Precursor1 & 2. aortic arches
Sourcecommon carotid artery
Branchessuperior thyroid, lingual, facial, ascending pharyngeal, occipital, posterior auricular, maxillary, superficial temporal
Latinarteria carotis externa
Anatomical terminology

The external carotid artery is a major artery of the head and neck. It arises from the common carotid artery when it splits into the external and internal carotid artery. External carotid artery supplies blood to the face and neck.[1]


The external carotid artery begins at the upper border of thyroid cartilage, and curves, passing forward and upward, and then inclining backward to the space behind the neck of the mandible, where it divides into the superficial temporal and maxillary artery within the parotid gland.

It rapidly diminishes in size as it travels up the neck, owing to the number and large size of its branches.

At its origin, this artery is closer to the skin and more medial than the internal carotid, and is situated within the carotid triangle.


In children, the external carotid artery is somewhat smaller than the internal carotid; but in the adult, the two vessels are of nearly equal size.


The external carotid artery is covered by the skin, superficial fascia, platysma, deep fascia, and anterior margin of the sternocleidomastoid; it is crossed by the hypoglossal nerve, by the lingual, ranine, common facial, and superior thyroid veins; and by the digastricus and stylohyoideus; higher up it passes deeply into the substance of the parotid gland, where it lies deep to the facial nerve and the junction of the temporal and internal maxillary veins.

Medial to it are the hyoid bone, the wall of the pharynx, the superior laryngeal nerve, and a portion of the parotid gland.

Lateral to it, in the lower part of its course, is the internal carotid artery.

Posterior to it, near its origin, is the superior laryngeal nerve; and higher up, it is separated from the internal carotid by the styloglossus and stylopharyngeus, the glossopharyngeal nerve, the pharyngeal branch of the vagus, and part of the parotid gland.


Branches of external carotid artery.

As the artery travels upwards, it supplies:

  • In the carotid triangle:[2]
    • Superior thyroid artery, arising from its anterior aspect
    • Ascending pharyngeal artery - arising from medial, or deep, aspect
    • Lingual artery - arising from its anterior aspect
    • Facial artery - arise from its anterior aspect
    • Occipital artery - arising from its posterior aspect
  • Posterior auricular artery - arising from posterior aspect

The external carotid artery terminates as two branches:

  • Maxillary artery
  • Superficial temporal artery

Several mnemonics are commonly used to remember the main branches of the external carotid artery.

  • Mnemonic — Some Anatomists Like Freaking Out Poor Medical Students .
  • Mnemonic — Sister Lucy's Face Often Powdered Attracts Medical Students .

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