BlogVeins vs Arteries: What’s the Difference?
Your circulatory system is like a road map. Your heart is your home base and your vessels are highways that move blood toward and away from your heart. These blood vessels have specific jobs that control traffic flow, much like north vs. southbound interstates. They’re called veins, arteries and capillaries. Here’s what you need to know:
Let’s start with your heart.
The heart is a muscle that pumps blood through your body via blood vessels. Blood travels away from your heart to your limbs and organs through arteries, delivering oxygen and nutrients to your cells. Then blood cruises back towards the heart and lungs through veins where it drops off waste such as carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen to start the delivery process all over again.
Arteries steer away from the heart.
Your blood’s journey away from your heart starts in the aorta. It’s the largest artery leaving the heart. Arteries are thick walled and built to withstand the blood pressure generated by your heart. They are smooth on the inside allowing blood to flow easily. There are no valves in arteries. As arteries get further away from your heart, they become smaller and eventually merge with capillaries.
Capillaries make connections.
While microscopically small and thin, capillaries play an important role in your circulatory system’s super highway. It’s here where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place in the organs, muscle and other tissues of the body. They also connect arteries to veins. That’s where your blood begins the process of trekking back toward the heart and lungs.
Veins make the return trip to the heart.
Once your blood journeys from the heart through the arteries and into the capillaries, it’s ready to head home. That’s where veins come in. Veins are thin walled and have one-way valves that ensure blood flows toward the heart. The blood pressure in veins is very low. As veins get closer to the heart, they become larger and larger. Upon arrival, blood goes through the heart and lungs, where it picks up oxygen, drops of carbon dioxide, and hits the road again through the arteries.
Now that you understand the roles of arteries and veins on a basic level, you can see why vein health is critical. Damaged veins and valves make it difficult for blood to get back to the heart. Pressure can build up in veins, causing them to stretch, twist, and swell. As veins become more damaged, valves deteriorate, and blood flows sluggishly, raising your risk for clotting or developing other venous symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of vein disease can include swollen clusters of purple veins, varicose veins, venous insufficiency, the feeling of heaviness or tiredness in your legs, leg and ankle swelling, night cramps, restless leg and skin discoloration.