An understanding of the complexity of the cardiovascular system is incomplete without a knowledge of the venous system. It is important for students to understand that, in a closed system, like the circulatory system, changes to the venous side of the circulation have a knock-on effect on heart function and the arterial system and vice versa. Veins are capacitance vessels feeding blood to the right side of the heart. Changes in venous compliance have large effects on the volume of blood entering the heart and hence cardiac output by the Frank-Starling Law. In healthy steady-state conditions, venous return has to equal cardiac output, i.e., the heart cannot pump more blood than is delivered to it. A sound understanding of the venous system is essential in understanding how changes in cardiac output occur with changes in right atrial pressure or central venous pressure, and the effect these changes have on arterial blood pressure regulation. The aim of this paper is to detail simple hands-on physiological assessments that can be easily undertaken in the practical laboratory setting and that illustrate some key functions of veins. Specifically, we illustrate that venous valves prevent the backflow of blood, that venous blood pressure increases from the heart to the feet, that the skeletal muscle pump facilitates venous return, and we investigate the physiological and clinical significance of central venous pressure and how it may be assessed.
Keywords: central venous pressure; right atrial pressure; skeletal muscle pump; venous blood pressure; venous return; venous valves.