Vein Science – Then and Now

Have you been considering treatment for your varicose veins, but feel nervous about the procedure? It may ease your mind to know that our modern vein treatments are the culmination of centuries of scientific advancement and refinement. Below, we briefly recount key moments from the fascinating history of circulatory science and phlebology (the specialized study of venous disease and treatment), concluding with a look at the state-of-the-art technology utilized by Artemis Colorado – Vein & Cosmetic Center. Knowing a bit of this history may calm any anxiety you feel about seeking treatment, and spur you to speak to a phlebologist about your symptoms.

An accurate understanding of how the systems of the body work took centuries to develop. In a famous document from the mid-16th century BCE known as the Ebers Papyrus, it is clear that Ancient Egyptians knew there was a connection between the heart and the arteries. However, they thought that, instead of blood, the heart moved air throughout the body.

This idea that the arteries circulated air in the body was still held by Greek scientific philosophers about twelve centuries later. When a person dies, blood drains into the veins, leaving the arteries clear. When scientists investigated the anatomy of a deceased person and found the arteries empty, they understandably hypothesized that their primary function was air circulation.

Misperceptions about the function of the circulatory system continued, as scientific philosophers assigned correct functions to some anatomical structures while assigning incorrect functions to others. For example, Galen, a physician living in Rome during the 2nd century CE understood that veins and arteries both carried blood, but did not recognize that they work together. He thought that veins carried blood from the liver, the arteries carried blood and air from the heart, and that neither vessel returned blood back to their originating organs.

Circulatory science made a significant leap in 1242 when Ibn al-Nafis, a physician from Damascus, corrected previous ideas that a tiny hole enabled blood to pass through the heart’s two ventricles, explaining instead that the blood circulated completely through the arteries and veins in the lungs. Though he did not identify capillaries specifically, he did assume that there must be some connection between the major blood vessels.

It wasn’t until the mid-17th century that William Harvey correctly described how the arteries and veins circulate blood throughout the entire body, rather than the lungs alone as al-Nafis had suggested. Just a few decades earlier, medical scientists were discovering the interior structures of veins that would enable Harvey’s findings. Most veins fight gravity to move blood vertically back to the heart. The mechanisms within veins that support the movement of blood are special one-way valves that each look like an inverted ‘V’ when closed. The valves open to let blood through and then shut to prevent it from flowing back down, thus enabling circulation. An Italian surgeon named Fabricius ab Aquapendente demonstrated in 1579 the existence of the venous valves, paving the way for his student William Harvey to pinpoint their function fifty years later in his own work.

Running parallel to this history of circulatory science and phlebology was the study of varicose veins, which are veins that cannot properly return blood to the heart due to problems with their valves. Even without a modern understanding of the venous system, doctors could still recognize problem veins when they saw them! There is even an illustration of a varicose vein from the fourth century BCE on the Acropolis in Greece. It is likely that this statue was dedicated to Doctor Amynos, one of the earliest phlebologists. The leg depicted shows clearly the winding vein that so many recognize today.

Centuries of work in these scientific and medical fields have made possible the excellent treatment options that we enjoy today. Currently there are a variety of approaches to treating varicose veins and all have their merits. The most advanced technology currently available is utilized in a technique known as laser ablation. Laser ablation has been used for over a decade and is now one of the most popular approaches to vein therapy. It is a minimally-invasive, cost-effective and highly-successful treatment, and the preferred option at Artemis Colorado – Vein & Cosmetic Center. At Artemis we take pride in using the most advanced technology currently available, the CoolTouch™ laser, to ensure that our patients have the best experience possible. We are dedicated to remaining on the cutting edge of vein treatment therapies.

In the late 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton wrote that his scientific discoveries were only possible because his work was built on the efforts of those who had come before him. We are also fortunate to be able to reap the benefits of the work of past philosophers, scientists, and physicians. It can be easy to take contemporary medical knowledge and technology for granted, or even mistrust it because we lack the understanding of the vast amount of human ingenuity and care that has produced well-established treatments.

If you experience any signs of venous disease in your legs (such as feelings of heaviness, pain or swelling), or have noticed you have varicose veins, it would be worth calling Artemis to discuss your symptoms and learn about some of the possible treatment options. If a procedure is necessary, you’ll be in the excellent hands of our own expert phlebologist and enjoy the benefits of the CoolTouch™ laser, the culmination of centuries worth of medical advancement.

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