Vein Education--How Veins Work

The Circulatory System:


In order to understand the job of our veins let's start with a look at our circulatory system. Our bodies need blood to circulate to all our tissues in order to keep each part of the body alive and functioning. Blood is made up of 4 things.

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1. Plasma contains many chemicals that help form blood the clots necessary to stop bleeding. More than 92% of plasma is water.


2. Red blood cells contain a special protein called hemoglobin, which carries the oxygen we inhale with our lungs to all of the parts of our bodies. It then returns carbon dioxide from our body to our lungs so we can exhale it. Hemoglobin is also responsible for making red blood cells red.


3. White blood cells are clear round cells that are bigger than red blood cells. White blood cells produce proteins called antibodies that help our bodies fight infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and foreign proteins.


4. Platelets aren't really cells at all; they are just fragments of cells. When we are injured, platelets gather at the site of the injury and stick to the edges of the wound. They release chemicals that help start the process of blood clotting so that bleeding will stop.

How  Normal Veins and Valves Work


When normal veins undergo "pumping" by movement of the calf muscles in the legs, the veins get squeezed together. This results in the blood getting forced upwards into the pelvis toward the heart. When the muscles relax and the veins open again, the blood is kept in place by the valves in the vein.  When the valves are working  normally the vein is said to be "competent".



Failing  Veins due to Abnormal Valves


When the valves in a vein do not work correctly, they are called "incompetent". The muscle squeezes the vein and the blood is forced up and out of the vein, as in normal veins. However, when the pressure eases and the veins open up, the blood is allowed to fall back down the leg and pool when the valves don't close tightly. This is called venous reflux or chronic venous insufficiency, and it is the major cause of most venous diseases and is almost always the cause of varicose veins.


Changes in lifestyle like moderate exercise and a  healthy diet can relieve some symptoms of venous disease especially since obesity  & inactivity aggravate the condition. Here are a few books I recommend to get you started.



Chi Walking: Fitness Walking for Lifelong Health and Energy by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer

The Beginning Runners Handbook The Proven 13-Week Walk/Run Program by Ian Macneill and The Sport Medicine Council

Younger Next Year for Men

and Younger Next Year for Women by Chris Crowley

Dr. Fuhrman


Venous Reflux or Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI): Vein Disease


Vein or venous diseases can lead to spider veins, varicose veins, phlebitis, blood clots, ulcers, and changes in the skin like discoloration due to pigmentation or dry or weeping eczema. Symptoms can include edema (swelling) of the legs, ankles, and feet, feeling of heaviness in the legs, restless legs, pain or cramps in your calves, aching, itching, tingling, tightness and fatigue.



Diagnoses and Evaluation of Vein Disease


A consultation with your doctor along with an examination focused on the venous system and a Doppler Duplex Ultrasound typically lead to a diagnosis.

This is how the blood moves through the body


It starts with the heart, which is the main pump of the circulatory system. It pumps oxygen rich blood full of nutrients to the tissues in the body. The blood vessels that take blood quickly away from the heart to the body tissues are called arteries. When the blood reaches the legs, it is returned to the heart through the squeezing of the calf muscles and vessels called veins. These veins have valves called flaps in them that keep the blood moving up the legs to the heart. Because gravity works against the upward motion of the blood, it is harder for the body to return the blood to the heart than to move it to the legs.

Normal Valves


Stop the flow of blood down the leg by use of tightly closing valve flaps

Abnormal Valves


Valves can't stop the blood from falling back down the leg

Vein Illustration