What is the difference between arteries and veins?

Our bodies do thousands of tasks daily without us ever being the wiser. Arteries and veins are among the busiest of all the body’s internal mechanisms, constantly working to keep our blood pumping to keep us alive. But what is the difference between arteries and veins? They both carry blood, but why are there two terms, not just one? This beginner-friendly guide aims to break down the similarities and differences between arteries and veins.

What is an artery? What do they do?

Arteries are thick-walled blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart. The blood is used to supply tissues and organs with the oxygen they need to survive and work optimally. They are closer to the heart and larger than veins.

Arteries branch out as they are more distanced from the heart, breaking into smaller arteries.

Arteries are closer to the heart and more prominent than veins, and the walls of arteries contain smooth muscle cells designed for high-pressure functions.

What are some examples of arteries?

The largest artery, the aorta, is roughly one inch in diameter at its base and extends into branches that supply oxygenated blood to different parts of the body.

The thoracic aorta, celiac trunk, or common iliac artery is also known as the thoracic aorta. It is the primary blood vessel supplying oxygenated blood to the abdominal cavity, from which it is then pumped throughout the body by other arteries. The artery finds its origin at the aortic bifurcation and divides into two major branches, inferior and superior.

The internal thoracic artery (also known as intercostal or intercostal artery) supplies oxygenated blood to abdominal organs such as the liver, kidneys, and spleen.

The right branch is the subclavian artery (also known as vertebral, axillary or brachiocephalic artery) which supplies oxygenated blood to the thoracic region and the coeliac trunk. It receives its supply from the left common carotid artery.

What is a vein? What do they do?

A vein is a thin-walled blood vessel that is tasked with returning deoxygenated blood to the heard to re-oxygenate it, completing the cycle, which starts over to keep oxygen flowing throughout the tissues and organs. Veins are smaller and designed for lower-pressure blood flow than the arteries, the smallest being only about a millimeter in diameter.

Veins are located in a more shallow area under the skin, often being visible just under the surface. and contain one-way valves so that blood can only flow in the proper direction. Venous valves are needed because veins, unlike arteries, have to fight gravity often to return the blood to the heart from the extremities. Muscles surround veins in most parts of the body. The veins squeeze when muscles are contracted, and blood gushes back up towards the heart.

What are some examples of veins?

The inferior vena cava is the largest and connects to a large vein leading back to the heart. It is called the vein of Galen and leads to the inferior vena cava, which leads to the heart. The primary function of this vein is for the transportation of deoxygenated blood back to the heart. The vena cava is also known as the aortic arch, arch of Archimedes, or common iliac vein. It is made up of three parts.

We will be publishing a guide soon on ALL types of veins, what they do, how they can become diseased, and how they can be treated! Keep an eye out for that!

How are arteries and veins alike?

Arteries and veins both have three main layers to their construction. An elastic tissue layer comprises the core, which directly contacts the blood. The middle layer is constructed from muscles that help blood vessels to keep their shape. There is another stretch layer on the outside, which helps the blood vessels to expand and shrink quickly depending on the flow of blood.

How are arteries and veins different?

They serve different functions. Arteries move oxygen-filled blood to the rest of the body from the heart. Veins carry the oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart to be reoxygenated. They work hand-in-hand to make sure there is a ready supply of oxygen in the bloodstream.

Blood moves faster through the arteries than it does through the veins. They are larger and thicker, allowing them to handle high-pressure blood flow moving through them. Veins are thinner and less stretchy, helping them move large amounts of blood over long compared to arteries.


The arteries and veins both carry blood throughout the body in different ways. Arteries start at heart and bring the oxygenated blood throughout the rest of the body, while veins return that blood to the heart once the various tissues and organs have used the oxygen.

Health risks can arise from unhealthy veins and arteries, such as varicose veins, artery plaque, and others.

Columbus vein specialists CVVWC are here and ready to assess your veins and develop a practical course of action for remedying issues you have with your vein health. Get in touch today to set up a consultation and/or ultrasound scan to discover problems and correct them to return your body to a healthy state.

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