Education Blog for Healthcare Professionals

Arm and Leg Veins – Anatomy + Terminology

Confusion as to which veins of arms and legs are superficial and which are deep can lead to misclassification superficial thrombophlebitis and DVT and, thus, to incorrect treatment decisions.

A. Arm Veins

Graph of  Arm vein terminology

  • Basilic and cephalic veins are superficial veins;
  • Brachial veins are deep veins;
  • Brachial veins drain into the axillary vein, followed by the subclavian vein, brachiocephalic vein, and then the SVC (superior vena cava).

B. Leg Veins

Graph of Leg vein terminology

  • Greater and lesser saphenous veins are superficial veins;
  • popliteal vein and anything proximal to it are considered a proximal veins;
  • gastrocnemius and soleal veins are intramuscular calf veins and part of the deep venous system. Together with the peroneal and tibial veins they make up the deep veins of the distal leg.
  • The “superficial femoral vein” is an outdated term. It is now called the “femoral vein”. It is the major deep vein of the thigh.

Finally, Doppler ultrasound of the legs can only visualize the veins distal to the inguinal ligament, i.e. the common femoral vein and below. For assessment of iliac vein (i.e. pelvic vein) thrombosis or narrowing (such as detection of May-Thurner syndrome), pelvic CT venogram or MRI venogram need to be performed.

Information for patients

The same information discussed here, written for patients and non-health care professionals, is available here.

Disclosures: I have no financial conflict of interests relevant to this post

Last updated: Jan 24rd, 2011

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