We’ve all heard of varicose veins and we’ve probably seen them on people’s legs. They are the veins that stick out above the skin and look ropey and bumpy. There are two types of vessels that carry blood throughout our bodies – veins and arteries. So why is there no such thing as a varicose artery?
Arteries and Veins Do Different Things
Veins and arteries work together to move blood throughout the body. Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart, while veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. An easy mnemonic device to remember that is “A for ‘artery’ and ‘away’ (from the heart).” There is one exception to this general rule – the pulmonary vessels. The pulmonary veins transport oxygen-rich blood back to the heart from the lungs, while the pulmonary arteries move deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs.
Veins Have Valves to Help Move the Blood against Gravity
Because arteries are closest to the heart, they have to be able to withstand high physical pressure as the blood moves forcibly through them to be pumped to the entire body. They pulse with each heartbeat and have thicker walls to be able to handle all that pressure. Veins carry this blood back to the heart once the oxygen has been used by the body. They experience much less pressure but their big challenge is contending with the forces of gravity. Since their job is to get blood from the extremities back to the heart, many veins, especially those in the legs, have valves to prevent the backflow and pooling of blood.
Varicose Veins Occur When These Valves Fail
These valves act as one-way flaps to prevent blood from flowing backward as it moves up your legs. Varicose veins occur when these valves fail. If the valves become weak, blood can leak back into the veins and collect there. When backed-up blood makes the veins bigger, they can become bulgy and bumpy – classic symptoms of varicose veins. Because arteries don’t have valves, there is no way for them to fail and cause a backup in the vessel. That explains why you never hear about varicose arteries.