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Understanding Circulation in the Legs

If your physician or cardiologist has told you that you have peripheral arterial disease, then you probably have questions. A basic understanding of the legs’ vascular system can help you make the most of your doctor’s appointment. If you’re going in for a PAD-related procedure, familiarize yourself with some of the terms below.

Arteries & Veins: Terms to Know

Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart out to the rest of the body. The aorta is the body’s main artery. The aorta splits off into two common iliac arteries, each of which carries blood to the legs. In the thigh, this artery is known as the “femoral artery.” It is the “popliteal artery” around the knee. Below the knee, the artery branches off into other smaller arteries.

Veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. Smaller veins in the foot, ankle, and calf join in the popliteal vein around the knee, which becomes the femoral vein in the thigh. Along the way, other veins, including the great saphenous vein, the internal iliac vein, and the common iliac vein, join and drain into the inferior vena cava, which sends blood through the heart and to the lungs for re-oxygenation.

Veins may be classified as either “deep” or “superficial.” Deep veins are close to bone, completely surrounded by muscle. The four deep veins of the leg are the iliac (hip), femoral (thigh), popliteal (knee), and tibial (calf). Superficial veins are near the surface of the skin; these veins are visible. The great saphenous vein is a superficial vein that you may be able to see. It runs the entire length of the inner leg, from the groin down through the foot.

Have More Questions?

Want to know more about how the circulatory system works in your legs? Ask your cardiologist at your next appointment. Physicians are committed to delivering patient education along with treatment at Advanced Heart and Vascular Institute. Schedule your appointment online in Globe, Tempe, or Phoenix, AZ. Or, call 602-507-6002.


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