The blood vessels are soft tube-like structures responsible for transmitting blood throughout the body. They play a key role in the circulatory system.
There are three main types of blood vessels: the arteries, the capillaries, and the veins. The arteries are responsible for carrying blood away from the heart, whereas the capillaries allow the exchange of water and other bodily chemicals between the blood and the body’s tissues. The veins, on the other hand, are responsible for carrying blood from the capillaries back to the heart.
Both the arteries and veins are made up of three layers, namely the tunica intima, tunica media, and tunica adventitia. In an artery, the thickest layer is the tunica media, or the middle layer. It is made up of connective tissues, fiber, and polysaccharide substances. In a vein, the thickest layer is the tunica adventitia, which is made entirely of connective tissue and nerves. The capillaries, on the other hand, are thin layers of endothelium and connective tissues.
Aside from the three major types of blood vessels, the body also has a network of smaller vessels called arterioles and venules. The arterioles are tiny branches of the arteries, whereas venules are the tiny branches that collect blood from the organs and eventually join to become veins. The smallest size of a blood vessel is only about five micrometers.
The blood vessels contract and expand with the help of the muscles that surround them. This action ensures that there is sufficient pressure in the blood vessels to pump blood all throughout the body.
Common Vascular Problems/Conditions
Peripheral artery disease – The peripheral arteries are the blood vessels located outside of the heart. In peripheral artery disease, these arteries become narrowed or blocked due to the buildup of fat and cholesterol. When this happens, blood can no longer flow properly.
Aneurysm – An aneurysm is a lump or bulge that develops in a blood vessel. It most commonly occurs in the aorta, but can happen in any blood vessel anywhere in the body. Thus, there are different types of aneurysms, such as cerebral aneurysms and abdominal aneurysms. If undetected and left untreated, these can rupture especially under stress and lead to life-threatening conditions.
Varicose veins – These refer to enlarged veins that cause a lumpy, bulging appearance that is visible through the skin. They most commonly affect the veins in the legs, but can also affect any vein in the body. Although some don’t cause symptoms, other cases of varicose veins have been linked with pain, cramping, and swelling of the feet and ankles.
Deep vein thrombosis – This is a specific type of blood clot that develops in one of the deeper veins of the body.
Pulmonary embolism – This refers to a serious medical condition wherein a blood clot travels from a vein toward the lungs.
Common Vascular Procedures and Surgeries
The common diseases affecting the blood vessels can be treated with different vascular procedures and surgeries, which include:
Open aortic surgery – This is used to repair aneurysms and prevent them from rupturing. In this surgery, the surgeon makes a large incision to gain access to the aneurysm.
Endovascular aneurysm repair – Considered as the less invasive alternative to an open aortic surgery, an endovascular aneurysm repair involves placing an expandable stent within the aorta. Once in place, the stent is expanded to widen the blocked blood vessel.
Sclerotherapy – This is the most common procedure used to treat blood vessel malformations such as varicose and spider veins. It is done by injecting medication into the blood vessels causing them to shrink.
Endovenous laser treatment – This is a minimally invasive treatment for vascular malformations. It uses laser technology to make the veins contract.
Angioplasty and stenting – A balloon angioplasty is used to widen narrowed or blocked arteries and veins. It is often done in conjunction with a stenting procedure for the treatment of atherosclerosis.