Blood flow in arteries is dominated by unsteady flow phenomena. The cardiovascular system is an internal flow loop with multiple branches in which a complex liquid circulates. A nondimensional frequency parameter, the Womersley number, governs the relationship between the unsteady and viscous forces. Normal arterial flow is laminar with secondary flows generated at curves and branches. The arteries are living organs that can adapt to and change with the varying hemodynamic conditions. In certain circumstances, unusual hemodynamic conditions create an abnormal biological response. Velocity profile skewing can create pockets in which the direction of the wall shear stress oscillates. Atherosclerotic disease tends to be localized in these sites and results in a narrowing of the artery lumen—a stenosis. The stenosis can cause turbulence and reduce flow by means of viscous head losses and flow choking. Very high shear stresses near the throat of the stenosis can activate platelets and thereby induce thrombosis, which can totally block blood flow to the heart or brain. Detection and quantification of stenosis serve as the basis for surgical intervention. In the future, the study of arterial blood flow will lead to the prediction of individual hemodynamic flows in any patient, the development of diagnostic tools to quantify disease, and the design of devices that mimic or alter blood flow. This field is rich with challenging problems in fluid mechanics involving three-dimensional, pulsatile flows at the edge of turbulence.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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