What Is Vascular Disease?


Vascular disease affects your cardiovascular system. The heart and blood vessels are essential to this system of the body. Veins and arteries are the names of the blood vessels that move blood to and from the heart. They help transport oxygen and important nutrients to all parts of the body. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart. Veins bring oxygen-poor blood back to the heart. Understanding the difference between veins and arteries is important to know how the body works.

Difference Between Veins and Arteries

One part of the circulatory system involves blood going from the heart to the lungs. The lungs are where blood drops off carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen for the body to use. The second part is how blood travels in a closed circuit throughout the body. Arteries and veins are the blood vessels that transport nutrients, while capillaries connect the two.

Arteries: There are two types of arteries — elastic and muscular. Elastic arteries near the heart widen to allow more blood flow. Muscular arteries have a smooth layer of muscle that delivers blood to tissues. Arteries have thicker walls than veins and can handle higher blood pressure.

Veins: Veins have thinner and less elastic layers than arteries. However, they can hold a lot of blood at lower pressure. Unlike arteries, veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. The pulmonary veins are the only veins in the body that carry oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the heart. Systemic veins carry deoxygenated blood from all body parts back to the heart.

Capillaries: Capillaries are the smallest vessels that exchange nutrients and waste between blood, cells and tissues. Blood then flows from the smallest veins, called venules, into larger veins.

How Do Veins and Arteries Work Together?

The circulatory system looks like a tree. The aorta is the largest artery and main trunk connecting all the branches. Blood with lots of oxygen moves from the heart through the arteries. It then gets to the capillaries and goes to each cell in the body. Afterward, it returns to the heart through veins. Veins carry blood without oxygen back to the heart, moving continuously all over the body. Even though veins and arteries are different, they work together to supply the body with oxygen.

Screening for Vascular Disease

Vascular disease is a condition that affects many people in the United States. If it is not treated, it can cause health problems like less blood flow to body parts, leading to nerve damage, ulcers and infections.

The Vascular Center at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC) offers free screenings to detect major vascular problems including abdominal aortic aneurysms, peripheral arterial disease and carotid artery disease. These screenings are quick and painless, lasting less than 20 minutes.

To learn about common risk factors for vascular disease, and to understand if a vascular screening may be right for you, visit www.umbwmc.org/vascular-screening.


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