What’s the Difference Between Superficial and Deep Veins?

Font Size:
superficial and deep veins in your circulatory system

Understanding Your Venous Network

The veins in your body are elastic blood vessels that are responsible for transporting blood from different body parts to the heart. Being a part of a body’s cardiovascular system, the veins are meant for transporting deoxygenated blood. In contrast to the high-pressure arterial system, the venous network is a low-pressure system that sends the blood back to the heart through the pressure generated by muscle contractions.

The main difference between a vein and an artery is not their structure, but the job that they do. As the arteries transport and disperse blood from the heart to the rest of the body, the veins bring the blood back up from the legs to the heart. A vein gets its name depending on its caliber and its position as a tributary, venule, saphenous trunk, or venous capillary.

Occasionally, a vein problem occurs because of a damaged valve or blood clot. Blockages, for example, occur when blood clots form in either deep veins or superficial ones. And these blockages generally form in the veins present in arms or legs.

Overall, your veins are divided into four main categories: deep, superficial, pulmonary, and systemic veins. The differences between deep and superficial veins can often be confusing to understand. In this guide, we’ll primarily focus on the superficial and deep veins in your legs.

What is a superficial vein?

A superficial vein is close to your  body’s surface and is often visible to the eye. Unlike deep veins, superficial veins are not paired along with arteries. Visible under the skin, superficial veins become visually prominent whenever the body lifts heavy weights—especially during a period of intense strength training. The superficial vessels are responsible for carrying the blood from the tissues that are closer to the skin’s surface to the deep veins. Later on, the deep veins push the blood back toward the heart.

There are two kinds of superficial veins located in the lower extremities, these include:

  • Great saphenous vein (GSV) – The GSV is the large superficial vein of the leg and the longest vein in the entire body. It can be found along the length of the lower limb, returning blood from the thigh, calf, and foot to the deep femoral vein at the femoral triangle. The femoral triangle is located in the upper thigh.
  • Lesser saphenous vein – When compared to the GSV, the lesser saphenous vein is much smaller in size. This vein connects and transports blood to the lateral surface of the leg as well as the popliteal vein.

In addition, the superficial veins also manage and monitor your body’s temperature. If your body becomes too hot, the deep veins pushes blood to the superficial veins in order to help the process of transferring or displacing the heat to other areas of the body.

Superficial venous insufficiency

Put simply, superficial venous conditions in the leg are disabling, costly, and, sadly, quite common. If left untreated, this form of venous incompetence can degrade a patient’s quality of life. In terms of data, almost 50 percent of the population suffers from superficial venous insufficiency by getting reticular or spider veins. However, for about 20 to 25 percent of the population, this vein disease can lead to highly visible varicosities in the lower limbs and may even cause skin changes and ulceration.

When a superficial vein’s valves fail to work properly, blood that normally flows from the legs upward through the valves, is able to flow backward, causing blood to pool within the leg veins. If blood is not able to circulate successfully, it can potentially cause ulcers, skin discoloration, blood clots, or varicosities (visible varicose veins). Superficial venous insufficiency is caused by inflammatory processes that damage a vein’s walls and valves.

Learn More About Venous Insufficiency

What are deep veins?

The veins located deep inside your body are known as deep veins. A deep vein is usually a large vein—way larger than the superficial ones—running through the muscles of the thigh and calf. A deep vein is located beside an artery that has the same name; for example, the femoral vein is found next to the femoral artery.

There are seven deep veins located in the lower extremities, they include:

  • Popliteal vien
  • Peroneal vein
  • Profunda femoris vein
  • Common femoral vein
  • Femoral vein
  • Anterior tibial vein
  • Posterio tibial vein

Due to the fact that deep veins collectively carry the majority of your blood, an obstruction can become life-threatening. The obstruction in a deep vein is mostly caused by clotting or thrombosis. Whenever a blood clot forms in your deep vein, the medical condition is known as DVT or deep vein thrombosis.

How does deep vein thrombosis develop?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) typically occurs in the deep veins found in the legs. Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together. It can either present no symptoms or cause pain, swelling, discoloration, cramping or warmth in the affected area.

This venous problem can cause swelling and pain in your veins and may even lead to life-threatening health conditions such as pulmonary embolism. Being a serious health condition, pulmonary embolism (PE) happens whenever a piece of a blood clot breaks in your bloodstream and blocks one of the lung’s blood vessels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 900,000 people are affected by either DVT or a pulmonary embolism (PE), or both in the U.S. each year.

Thankfully, there are many effective ways to treat superficial veins and prevent them from leading to serious health conditions in the future.

More Information About DVT

Treating vein disease with zero hassle

Since 2005, USA Vein Clinics offers a wide range of vein procedures. Both spider and varicose vein leg pain treatment, offered at our clinics is approved by the FDA. Our experienced vein specialists who understand a patient’s vein problem and deliver the right procedures. Because of that, this leg swelling and pain treatment center has become one of the most dependable names when it comes to getting rid of different vein problems.

So if you are interested in learning more about how to get rid of the painful, incompetent veins, then feel free to schedule an appointment with us today. You can book your appointment at our clinics by scheduling online or by calling us at 888.768.3467.

Don’t let painful legs negatively impact your daily life. Click the button below to schedule your appointment with one of our vein specialists at USA Vein Clinics and take that first step toward rebuilding a healthy venous network.

Schedule Your Appointment Now

Schedule Online
Find a Location