We often get questions regarding the similarities and differences between veins and arteries. We have noticed that there seems to be some confusion between the two, and oftentimes people think that they are the same thing. We want to help people understand the key similarities and differences between arteries and veins.
Blood vessels help circulate blood throughout your body. They form a complete loop, starting and ending at the heart. The human body contains around 60 thousand miles of blood vessels. There are three types of blood vessels: arteries, veins, and capillaries. These vessels work together to form the cardiovascular system.
The Cardiovascular System
Let’s get to the heart of the matter, the cardiovascular system. It starts and ends with the heart, keeping a continuous and controlled movement of blood that delivers nutrients and oxygen to every cell in the body through arteries, veins, and capillaries in between.1 The cells of the body rely on this system to get everything that they need to function properly.
Pulmonary circulation is when unoxygenated blood is sent to the lungs to become oxygenated and to remove carbon dioxide. The unoxygenated blood comes into the right side of the heart before being taken to the lungs for oxygenation and then finally delivered to the left side of the heart.
Systemic circulation is when oxygenated blood that has been delivered to the left side of the heart is delivered to the rest of the body to provide oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the body.
What Do Arteries and Veins Have in Common?
Arteries and veins are two of the body’s main types of blood vessels. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the body. Veins are blood vessels that carry blood that is low in oxygen from the body back to the heart for reoxygenation.
How Can You Tell the Difference?
In terms of function, arteries and veins are quite different from one another. A key difference between arteries and veins is that the arteries carry oxygenated blood to all body parts, whereas veins carry the deoxygenated blood to the heart, with the exception of pulmonary arteries and veins.
Arteries have thicker walls because they deal with the pressure of the blood forcibly moving away from the heart. Veins don’t have to deal with as much pressure, but they do have to deal with the forces of gravity. There are valves in the veins to prevent blood from flowing backward or pooling that can become damaged. This can cause a person to develop varicose veins.
What are Veins?
Visually speaking, veins are more commonly identifiable because of superficial veins, which are closer to the surface of the skin. Pulmonary veins are in charge of transporting oxygenated blood to the heart from the lungs. Systemic veins, located throughout the body from the legs up to the neck and arms, transport deoxygenated blood back to the heart. There are also deep veins that are located deep within the muscle tissue.
Common Venous Disorders
- Chronic venous insufficiency
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Excessive blood clotting
- Superficial venous thrombosis (phlebitis)
- Varicose and spider veins
What are Arteries?
Carrying blood away from the heart in two distinctive pathways there is the systemic circuit and the pulmonary circuit. Systemic arteries carry oxygen-rich blood towards tissue whereas pulmonary arteries carry oxygen-depleted blood from the heart to the lungs where it can acquire fresh oxygen.4 There are a few types of arteries including elastic arteries that have a thick middle layer so they can stretch in response to the pulse of the heart. Muscular arteries5, draw blood from elastic arteries and branch into resistance vessels. Arterioles are the smallest division of arteries that transport blood away from the heart. They direct blood into the capillary networks.
Common Arterial Diseases 4
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
- Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm
- Coronary Artery Disease
- Carotid Artery Disease
- Peripheral Arterial Disease
- Vertebrobasilar Disease
- Renal Vascular Disease
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Learn about interventional radiology and how endovascular procedures differ from open vascular surgeries.
Are Veins or Arteries Related to Peripheral Artery Disease?
The peripheral arteries supply oxygenated blood to the body, and the peripheral veins lead deoxygenated blood from the capillaries in the extremities back to the heart.2 Sometimes small blockages build up inside your blood vessels. These blockages are called plaque. They develop when cholesterol sticks to the wall of the artery. Your immune system, sensing a problem, will send white blood cells to attack the cholesterol. This sets off a chain of reactions that leads to inflammation. In a worst-case scenario, cells form a plaque over the cholesterol, and a small blockage is formed. Sometimes they can break loose and cause a heart attack. As the plaques grow, they may block blood flow in an artery entirely. This blocked blood flow to the lower extremities is effectively Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).
What Can You Do to Unclog Arteries?
Peripheral artery disease doesn’t always require a procedure. There are lifestyle changes and medications that can help promote healthy arteries. Here are some ways you can promote healthy arteries:
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Exercising regularly, such as a walking program.
- Monitor high dosages of calcium supplements3
- Get your cholesterol checked.
- Quit smoking.
- Take medications as prescribed.6
Consult with your primary care physician before starting any new diet or workout routines. Defer to your doctor to evaluate potential concerns and to make the referral to a vascular partner. Our goal is to promote Peripheral Artery Disease awareness, its risk factors, and treatment options. With more awareness, patients and doctors will be able to identify early signs of PAD and ensure early intervention in order to decrease these numbers. Modern Vascular treats PAD through a non-invasive outpatient clinic setting. To learn more about our clinics, PAD, and PAD-related problems, or you are searching for the right vascular partner for your procedure, call Modern Vascular (888) 853-1278 or use our online form to schedule your consultation today.
- Frothingham, Scott. Artery vs. Vein: What’s the Difference?, Healthline.com, 12 Apr. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/artery-vs-vein.
- Hochauf, Sandra; Sternitzky, Reinhardt; Schellong, Sebastian M. (2007). “Struktur und Funktion des venösen Systems”. Herz (in German). Springer Nature. 32 (1): 3–9.
- Gilvydis, Rimas. “THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VEINS AND ARTERIES.” https://Niveinclinic.com/the-Difference-between-Veins-and-Arteries/, Northern Illinois Vein Clinic, 23 July 2019, niveinclinic.com/the-difference-between-veins-and-arteries/.
- “Arterial (Artery) Disease.” Arterial (Artery) Disease | Frankel Cardiovascular Center | Michigan Medicine, www.umcvc.org/conditions-treatments/arterial-artery-disease.
- Seladi-Schulman, Jill. Arteries of the Body, 26 Feb. 2019, http://www.healthline.com/health/arteries-of-the-body.
- Holland, Kimberly. Is It Possible to Unclog Your Arteries?, 17 Sept. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/how-to-unclog-arteries.