The Anatomy of Veins and Arteries

Before explaining the anatomy of your veins, let’s have a quick overview of your cardiopulmonary system. The cardiopulmonary system consists of a network of blood vessels, the lungs, trachea and bronchi.  The system comprises organs from both the circulatory and respiratory systems, to carry nutrients, oxygen and hormones throughout the body, as well as to removes waste. This network begins oxygenated blood is transported from the lungs to the heart via the pulmonary veins. The oxygenated blood is then transported throughout the entire body. Then, the deoxygenated blood is returned to the heart at the right atrium of the aorta, via the inferior and superior vena cava.


The Function of Arteries and Veins

While both arteries and veins are blood vessels, they are quite different. Arteries carry oxygenated blood to the organs and limbs, while veins carry the deoxygenated blood back to the heart for re-oxygenation. The only exception are the pulmonary veins, which carry oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart.

Veins contain a smaller mass of muscle tissue than arteries, and are located in closer proximity to the skin’s surface. Arteries transport nutrient-rich blood away from the heart, while veins carry blood back toward the heart. Veins differ from arteries in that they contain valves which keep the blood moving in one direction, without risk of reflux or back -flow.


Vein and Artery Structure

Tunica adventitia – The resilient outer layer of both arteries and veins, comprised of collagen and elastin.

Tunica media – The middle layer of both arteries and veins, comprised of smooth muscle and elastin fibers

Tunica intima – The interior lining of both veins and arteries, which contain the hollow passageway for blood to flow, called the Lumen. Veins contain one-way valves, which allow blood to move back to the heart and lungs against gravity, without risk of back flow.

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How Are Varicose Veins and Spider Veins Caused?

As mentioned earlier, veins are unique to arteries in that they contain one-way valves to carry blood to back to the heart and lungs. Also, most superficial veins are closer to the surface of the skin. Sometimes, the valve inside the vein malfunctions, causing blood to pool in an area of the vein. This pooled blood becomes visible through the skin’s surface. When this occurs in smaller veins and capillaries, we refer to the condition as spider veins. When we see larger darkened and bulging veins, we refer to them as varicose veins.

While they can be unsightly, spider veins are not painful, and do not lead to serious complications. However, they can begin to worsen if untreated. Fortunately, spider vein treatment is fast, safe and completely painless. Both varicose vein treatment and spider vein treatments consist of closing the afflicted vein, by a variety of methods.

Most cases of varicose veins are painless, and also without complication. However, there is a considerable number of cases that have reached the point of discomfort, wherein patients complain of aching, painful limbs. If left untreated, serious cases of varicose veins can lead to ulcers, blood clots, or rupture/bleeding. Thankfully, varicose vein treatment is simple, painless and highly effective. The most popular varicose vein treatments are VNUS Closure (Venefit), EVLA (VenaCure), sclerotherapy, or laser treatment.


If you are considering varicose vein treatment or spider vein removal, please come in for a consultation with our team of board-certified vascular surgeons at the San Diego Vascular Center.

The San Diego Vascular center is located in San Diego, yet easily accessible from Orange County and Riverside County.