Unless you are giving blood or getting an IV, it is likely you don’t think much about your veins. They just exist, doing their job in your body, with no input from you, right? Well, usually, yes. But your venous system is so incredibly vital to your overall health that it’s worth taking some time to thoroughly understand how this system works and what you can do to avoid or alleviate vein problems that can occur.
Your veins are part of your body’s circulatory system, which is the system that helps to move blood throughout your body, allowing the lungs to re-oxygenate the blood on its journey. Veins themselves are part of the venous system, and they work hard to carry out their particular jobs. Let’s take a closer look.
Systems Within Systems
You already know that your body is an amazing machine that, for the most part, functions well as long as we provide proper maintenance. But you may be surprised to learn the layers upon layers of organization that exist within your body.
The circulatory system is no different. It includes the cardiovascular (heart) and pulmonary (lungs) systems, along with the blood vessels that do the transporting. The main types of blood vessels are arteries, veins, and capillaries, each with a different role to play.
- Arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the organs and tissues throughout the body. Arterioles are the body’s smallest arteries. They take blood to the capillaries.
- Veins carry blood back to the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated. Venules are small veins that collect blood from the capillaries.
- Capillaries are small, thin-walled blood vessels that connect the arteries and veins.
The venous system alone has several layers within itself. The vast majority of veins are systemic veins. They do the transporting of oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart where it is pumped into the system of pulmonary veins. These unique vessels carry the blood to the lungs to be reoxygenated and then back to the heart to be pumped out through the arteries. They are the only veins that carry oxygenated blood.
Types of Veins
The systemic veins then are further categorized:
- Deep Veins: These aptly-named vessels are deep within the body, not near the surface of the skin. They reside in muscles or alongside bones and have one-way valves to stop the blood from flowing backward. The muscles surrounding these veins contract to help push the blood in the right direction. Deep veins do a significant amount of the transporting for the blood.
- Superficial Veins: These veins are under the skin, in a fatty layer. They are the ones you can see through your skin, and that medical providers use when drawing blood or administering an IV. These vessels also have a valve to prevent backward blood flow. Without nearby muscles to compress them, superficial veins carry blood more slowly than deep veins.
- Connecting Veins: Another body part with a clear name, these vessels are short veins that connect superficial and deep veins.
Common Vein Problems
Now that you see how much is going on beneath the surface, literally, it probably isn’t surprising to discover that there are a lot of things that can go wrong with your veins. With such a complex set of systems to support, your veins are mighty things that need care and attention. Here are some common problems and difficulties that can affect your venous system.
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI): This disorder occurs when the veins’ walls weaken, or the valves are not functioning correctly. This malfunction allows the blood to flow backward, causing it to pool in the feet and legs. CVI can lead to sores and ulcers on the skin, pain, blood clots, spider veins, and varicose veins.
- Phlebitis: This condition occurs when there is swelling in the deep or superficial veins. Thrombophlebitis is swelling in a vein that occurs because of a clot.
- Thrombosis: Thrombosis is when a blood clot develops in a vein, restricting the flow of blood. We need blood clots to protect us when we get a serious cut or external injury, but when one forms in a vein, it can be deadly.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): As you likely can guess, this is a blood clot that forms within a deep vein in the body, usually in the legs or pelvis. Because the deep veins are bigger and carry more blood, these clots are particularly dangerous. If a clot should break off, it could travel to the heart or lungs, potentially creating a life-threatening situation. DVT often occurs without any warning signs, but sometimes there is warmth or redness around the clot.
- Pulmonary Embolism (PE): This is the term given to a blood clot in a lung, leading to decreased oxygen in the bloodstream. It may develop there initially, but more likely it is a clot from DVT that breaks off and travels to the lung. Pulmonary embolisms often produce no symptoms, but sometimes they bring on shortness of breath, chest pain, or even coughing up blood. PE requires immediate medical attention as it can lead to organ damage due to lack of oxygen, and, in severe cases, it can be fatal.
- Congenital Vascular Malformation: This is a general term that refers to genetic vascular defects that can impact both veins and arteries. Situations such as birthmarks and missing valves fall under this umbrella diagnosis. Some of the malformations are diagnosed at birth, and some do not make themselves know til later in life.
Your veins are workhouses in your body. They are unheralded heroes that help build the superhighway of your circulatory system, and they deserve your attention. As with all of your body’s tissues, organs, and systems, your veins will benefit when you maintain a healthy weight, proper nutrition, and consistent exercise habits.
If you have concerns about spider veins, varicose veins, thrombosis or other venous issues, reach out today. With many treatment options available, the expert medical staff at Metro Vein Clinic is happy to help you set up a plan to get you feeling your best.