Veins in the Arm – Anatomy and Abnormalities

As per their relative depths from the surface of the skin, the veins in the arms are classified into 2 types, i.e., superficial veins and deep veins.

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The superficial veins occur between the 2 superficial fascia layers, just underneath the integument, and include the basilic, cephalic, and median cubital veins. The cephalic vein is considered as the ‘signature vein’ in body builders and runs along the muscles of the bicep. The basilic vein is the arm’s largest vein and is usually used for purposes of dialysis. The medial cubital vein is normally used to draw a sample of blood near the fold of the elbow.

The deep veins of the arm run adjacent to the arteries of the arm and every deep vein tends to feature a parallel artery. The ulnar, brachial, and radial veins are a few of the deep veins of the arms that take the blood away from the upper extremities. The brachial vein glides from the shoulder region to the elbow, the ulnar veins glides across the ulna, and the radial vein glides along the entire length of the radius. The ulnar and radial veins join near the elbow to make the brachial vein.

Abnormalities of the veins in the arm

Some of the common problems associated with the veins in the arm include vascularity, varicose veins, and vascular diseases.

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  1. Vascularity: It refers to bulging veins in the arms. It can occur due to benign/harmless causes such as genetics, age, and low fat content in body, or serious causes like vascular diseases.
  • Low fat content in body: Bulging of veins under the skin in the arms may occur due to very little fat content in the body. The lifting of weights, especially by body builders, is another common cause of the emergence of bulging veins in the arms. In fact, vascularity is considered as a sign of success in the field of body building and weight lifting, because increased visibility of the veins is a sign that most of the excess fat content has been removed from the body.
    • The presence of vascularity in the arms in people who are not into body building may be due to low body fat which can occur due to a diet or some kind of exercise, or due to both. It is also possible for an individual to be naturally thin.
    • Excessively low body fat can be unhealthy, but it may not necessarily be an indicator of the overall health of a person. Individuals who are concerned about the presence of bulging veins in the arms may consult a doctor to ascertain whether it is caused due to some underlying health problem.
  • Genetics and age: The veins in arms may be naturally more prominent due to reasons such as body fat distribution, pigmentation of the skin, or varied genetic factors. The veins of the arm also tend to become more visible as one ages. Most of such cases are not associated with underlying health problems, but if the veins are more prominent or larger than before, then patients may consult a doctor.
  1. Vascular diseases: It is a serious cause of vascularity and is marked by dysfunction of the lymph and blood vessels that causes blockages in the free flow of blood. Any kind of obstruction in the lymph or blood vessels in the arm, or in the bigger vessels that supply the arm like those running along the collarbone can cause bulging of veins in the arms. Also, blockages in the surrounding vessels like the carotid artery can cause it to swell up, which in turn can constrict the nearby vessels.
  • In addition to increasingly visible veins in the arms, patients may also elicit a host of other signs and symptoms such as fatigue, discoloration and other changes of the hand and arm skin, unusual heaviness of the arms, weakened muscles, breathlessness, decreased mobility, lack of wound healing, and pain.
  • Some of the common causes of vascular disease include genetics, increased age, blood vessel trauma or injuries, a sedentary lifestyle, hypertension, diabetes, and smoking.
  • Treatment of vascular disease is usually dependent on the severity and the location of the vessel obstructions and usually involves clearing of obstructions in the affected vessel/vessels. The doctor may remove the blockage by inserting a device into the affected vessel so as to keep it open, or may surgically remove the damaged or blocked part of the vessel.
  1. Varicose veins: Varicose or spider veins, i.e., purplish or bluish veins in the arms may occur due to enlargement or stretching of the veins. Enlargement of the veins typically occurs due to increased flow of blood across the veins, with the superficial veins becoming the most evident due to such swelling. The condition is usually harmless and cosmetic in nature.
  • A few home remedies for varicose veins are listed below:
    • Lose those extra pounds to reduce the load on the circulatory system. Regularly exercising can help decrease the pressure on the veins, reduce the overall body weight, and help them become normal once again. Walking improves the blood flow and circulation across the arms, thereby causing the veins to narrow and become less prominent or bulging.
    • Do not exert pressure on the arms by leaning on them when sitting. Instead let them swing freely. Ensure that adequate arm support is present and that frequent breaks are taken when working on computers.
    • Constipation and water retention can stretch the veins and worsen the appearance of varicose veins. Intake of a high-fiber and low sodium diet can reduce the risk of swelling which then lowers the excess pain on the veins.
    • Tight clothing can hamper free flow of blood and adversely affect the circulation in the arms, thereby increasing the pressure on the veins in the arms. Hence, wear loose fitting apparels with porous fabrics so that the skin can breathe.
  • In case the above home remedies do not help reduce varicose veins, then consult a doctor about undergoing sclerotherapy, a treatment option marked by use of liquid injections to stop the excess flow of blood and reduce the vein size.
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