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What is Vein Disease?

Before we can understand what goes wrong, we need to know what is normal.  Let’s talk about circulation in general.

Arteries and veins are like the roads leading to and from the heart.  The heart is the “shipping and receiving” department of your body.  Oxygen and nutrients, vital for maintaining the life of each and every cell, must be distributed.  Waste products must be removed.

Like the engine of a delivery truck, the pumping action of the heart continuously drives oxygen-rich blood through the arteries and every organ in the body.  A bed of tiny vessels called capillaries connects arteries to veins and allows oxygen to be exchanged for waste products and fluids.  Just as the empty truck returns to start the whole the process again, it is the job of veins to carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart to pick up more oxygen.  This is accomplished by two networks of veins in the legs known as the superficial and the deep venous systems.

The superficial veins are closer to the skin and can be easily seen.  Their main job is to help regulate temperature by dilating or constricting to give off or conserve heat.  The superficial veins feed blood to deeper veins via short veins called perforating or communicating veins.  The deep veins, with help from muscles in the calf and foot, return blood to the heart.  These, muscles, called the calf muscle pump or peripheral heart, are the “engine” on the venous end, compressing deep veins, squeezing blood up toward the heart.  They play an important role in circulation since the heart does not generate enough pressure to do this job by itself.

Pressure in deep veins is higher than in superficial veins.  To keep blood flowing from surface veins to the deep system, leg and arm veins contain of one-way valves.  They open for uphill flow and close for downhill flow.

Think of blood flow as traffic; valves act like a police officer directing traffic on a congested street.  The valve has two flaps that float open during muscle contraction and allow blood to flow toward your heart.  During muscle relaxation they close, which prevents blood from flowing backward and pooling in the lower legs.