There are three main types of blood vessels:
- Arteries: Arteries are thin, muscular tubes that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart and to every part of your body. The aorta is the body’s largest artery. It starts at the heart and travels up the chest (ascending aorta) and then down into the stomach (descending aorta). The coronary arteries branch off the aorta, which then branch into smaller arteries (arterioles) as they get farther from your heart.
- Veins: These blood vessels return oxygen-depleted blood to the heart. Veins start small (venules) and get larger as they approach your heart. Two central veins deliver blood to your heart. The superior vena cava carries blood from the upper body (head and arms) to the heart. The inferior vena cava brings blood up from the lower body (stomach, pelvis and legs) to the heart. Veins in the legs have valves to keep blood from flowing backward.
- Capillaries: These blood vessels connect very small arteries (arterioles) and veins (venules). Capillaries have thin walls that allow oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients and waste products to pass into and out of cells.