Our vascular system carries oxygen and other vital chemicals through nearly 60,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries. Scientists estimate that 80% of our vascular system is made up of the tiny and delicate capillaries—some so narrow that our red blood cells literally change shape to fit through them!
Dr. Eugene Tanquilut says, “When we breathe, when we see a pulsing vein, when we feel lightheaded after getting up too quickly, that’s our vascular system at work. Most often, here at Vascular Specialists, we discuss serious vascular conditions like occlusions, stroke risk, stenosis and DVT. But did you know that our vascular system is also at work when our fingers and toes get wrinkly and prune-like after a bath?”
Dr. Tanquilut is here to give us some fun facts about our vascular system.
For a long time, conventional wisdom around pruney, wet fingers held that our fingers wrinkled by absorbing and storing water between layers of skin. Then, in the 1930s, doctors noticed a patient with specific nerve damage whose fingers did not get wrinkly when wet. We now know that our fingers and toes wrinkle when wet because our capillaries contract, pulling the skin back creating a wrinkle. Researchers suspect this response is an evolutionary advantage that helps us work through wet conditions.
While it took years of scientific research to discover the role of the vascular system in pruney fingers, it’s a little easier to see how the vascular system shows up in a minor bit of trauma—something like a hickey. A hickey is a minor bruise caused by damaged blood vessels, usually inflicted by sucking, whether it’s a cupping treatment, a prolonged kiss or a vaccum cleaner. Blood pools and there is residual staining of skin layers. Warm compresses can help relax the vascular structures, increase blood flow, and begin the process of repairing the damage, but that hickey will probably stick around for several days.
Sometimes, our vascular system experiences damage on a larger scale, producing more significant bruising such as a blood blister. Blood blisters form when a blood vessel ruptures and blood pools between the layers of the skin, typically at the sight of specific trauma, like getting your fingers caught in a door. The blister will appear red and then darken as the blood clots and the body begins to heal. While blood blisters look scary and can be a little painful, they are yet more evidence of your vascular system at work and a reminder to you to avoid banging your fingers in doors.
Hickeys and blood blisters are both cases where we see our vascular system only because we broke it. We see the damage and pooled blood that escaped our vascular system.
Usually, without special imaging technology, it’s difficult to see our vasculature working to oxygenate and regulate our body. However, when you experience bloodshot or red eyes, you can see your vascular system working in real time. When our eyes experience discomfort, blood flow increases to the eye to help it heal. In many cases, red eyes are the result of this increased blood flow - and we can literally see it with and in our own eyes.
Whether you’re hand washing the dishes, getting kissed, or dealing with puffy red eyes from allergies, your vascular system is working all the time to heal your body.
When you have questions about your vascular health, Vascular Specialists is here with answers. Just click here!