Vessel that carries blood to the heart. Except for the pulmonary veins, veins bear deoxygenated blood from capillaries, which converge into threadlike venules and then veins, finally emptying into the venae cavae (see cardiovascular system; vena cava). Blood moves through veins by contraction of the surrounding muscles. Backflow is prevented by valves in most veins' inner layer (tunica intima), which lacks the elastic membrane lining of arteries. The thin middle layer (tunica media) is mostly collagen fibres, and the thick outer layer (tunica adventitia) is mostly connective tissue. Seealso circulation; varicose vein.
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Twisted vein distended with blood. Varix also covers arteries and lymphatic vessels (see lymphatic system). Varicose veins occur mostly in the legs, when malfunctioning valves let blood pool in veins near the skin. Causes include hereditary valve and vein wall weakness and internal or external pressure on veins. Varices are common in pregnancy, suggesting that hormone abnormalities play a role. Symptoms include a heavy feeling, with leg cramps and swelling after standing a long time. Complications include skin ulcers and thrombosis. Treatment involves strong support hose, injection therapy, or surgery. Varices in the esophagus, which often occur in liver disease, can ulcerate and bleed. Seealso hemorrhoid.
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