What Is the Difference Between Arteries and Veins? Our Specialists Weigh In

It’s a common question we get all the time: What is the difference between arteries and veins?

On the surface, they seem similar. We know that blood circulates in the human body through connected channels called blood vessels. Arteries and veins are the major blood vessels in the cardiovascular system.

While they are similar because of their main function, they have unique features that make them different.

Here, our experts explain the core difference between arteries and veins, including common disease conditions affecting both.

The Difference Between Arteries and Veins

Arteries and veins have functional and structural differences. Functionally, arteries move oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other body parts, while veins return oxygen-poor blood from the body to the heart.

So how are they different structurally? It all comes down to their walls. Arteries have walls made up of smooth muscles and elastic tissues, which makes them able to withstand the high pressure of blood flow.

Veins, on the other hand, are thinner and less elastic because blood flows under low pressure. What’s more, veins have valves that promote venous return and resistance against the gravitational pull, especially in the arms and legs.

If you have structural damage to the walls of your arteries and veins (including the valves), your risk of developing blood vessel disorders increases.

Are Your Symptoms Related to Your Arteries or Your Veins?

Now that you know the main difference between arteries and veins, how do you know if the symptoms you’re experiencing are related to one or the other?

Symptoms Related to Problems With Your Arteries

Arterial disease may begin with the abnormal deposition of fatty substances into the inner layers of the arterial wall. These substances grow over time and can block an artery.

This blockage results in reduced blood supply to tissues and results in the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained leg and foot pain that worsens after walking more than a block
  • Unusual coldness in your foot
  • Cramp-like thigh and leg pains after an exercise
  • Pale or purplish discoloration of the skin around your legs
  • Weakness or numbness in your legs

Symptoms Related to Vein Conditions

Vein diseases, on the other hand, occur when there’s a weakness in the wall and damage to the valves. These valves are special tissues that prevent the backflow of blood in veins.

When these valves are damaged, blood accumulates in the veins, and this increases the venous pressure.

If the venous pressure continues to rise unchecked, it leads to the following symptoms:

  • Heaviness in the legs: The accumulation of blood in the leg veins adds extra weight to the legs. You may feel leg heaviness when you walk.
  • Leg swelling: Swelling on one or both legs could suggest damage to the leg veins. This happens when the persistent elevated venous pressure pushes body fluid out from the veins. This fluid causes the surrounding tissues to swell. If you notice either or both legs swelling, consult a vein specialist.
  • Skin discoloration: Unexplained skin color changes in some parts of the leg could suggest vein damage. The local tissues around a damaged vein break down the blood that leaks from ruptured weak veins.
  • Varicose veins: These are abnormally twisted and swollen veins on your legs. Visible varicose veins indicate damage to the superficial leg veins.
  • Leg pain and discomfort: Leg pains when walking that are relieved at rest may signal vein damage.

When to Call Your Doctor or Vein Specialist

It is essential that you seek expert care and early treatment if you have any of the symptoms or vein problems above. Early diagnosis and rapid treatment reduce your risk of developing complications. High-risk individuals with chronic medical disorders will benefit from periodic screening from a vein specialist.

At Carolina Vein Specialists, we have a team of professionals that specialize in treating various venous disorders. Call Carolina Vein Specialists at 336-218-8346 to book an appointment.