Veins are branching structures that take blood from the surface and deep tissues back to the heart. Just like a river that is fed by streams, the major veins are fed by smaller veins which in turn are fed by even smaller veins.
There are many myths and 'old wives' tales' about veins, varicose veins, and venous conditions which are not true. A selection are explained here:
To understand veins, we have to understand how they work, before we start looking at individual veins, and what can go wrong with them:
Venous conditions are found all over the body, but the majority of them are found in the legs - such as varicose veins, thread veins, venous eczema, leg ulcers, phlebitis, deep vein thrombosis and other conditions explained in The College of Phlebology's condition section.
To help you understand these conditions, and the treatments we can now perform to fix them, The College of Phlebology has produced a guide to the major veins in the body that can be affected by venous conditions and disease.
These conditions and diseases of the legs occur when certain veins malfunction, for example when the valves do not work, or it can also be due to clots or other problems. Not all veins cause the same problem when they malfunction and also different veins need different treatments.
In this section, we go through the major veins in the body explaining where they are, what can go wrong with them and which treatments are appropriate for them if they need treatment.
Major (truncal) superficial veins in the legs
The major (truncal) superficial veins are the main veins outside of the muscle but under the skin. They lie in the subcutaneous fat and are not usually visible. Rarely, in very slim people sections of these truncal veins can be seen on the surface. As all more superficial veins that can be seen drain into these veins, virtually all visible vein problems on the surface stem from at least one of these truncal veins. Please click on the name of the relevant vein below to see more information:
The major (truncal) superficial veins empty deoxygenated blood into the deep vein system at major junctions in the groin (sapheno-femoral junction) and behind the knee (sapheno-popliteal junction). However there are also approximately 150 other smaller communicating veins in the leg that take venous (deoxygenated) blood from the major (truncal) superficial veins to the deep vein system directly 'perforating' through the muscle. Thus these are called perforating veins or 'perforators'
Veins visible on the surface (Reticular veins and 'thread veins')
In normal people, green veins can often be seen through the skin, particularly around the joints. If these are bulging, they may be varicose veins. However if visible but flat, they are often just called reticular veins. If they are tiny, and on the surface - often being purple, blue or red - they are called thread veins. Reticular veins may be normal - only a duplex ultrasound scan can tell if they are or not. Thread veins are always abnormal and therefore are discussed under our conditions section.
Veins draining blood from the organs in the pelvis are deep inside the body. The main ones drain the ovaries in women and run up the back of the abdomen, emptying deoxygenated blood into the major veins near the kidneys. These are called the ovarian veins. Men have similar veins but these drain deoxygenated blood from the testicles and therefore are called testicular veins. In both men and women, there are two shorter veins in the pelvis called internal iliac veins.
Veins of the foot are very important when it comes to pumping blood up the leg by walking. However they are rarely involved with any venous disease except cosmetically.
Veins of the arms and hands
Veins of the upper limb (arm and hand) are often prominent and therefore noticeable. This is worse in people who are very slim, very athletic or when fat is lost from the hands and arms with age. In almost all cases the veins are working normally, as are their valves, but swelling of the veins can be tender and the appearance can be distressing.