Veins are blood vessels that carry blood toward the heart. Most veins carry deoxygenated blood from the tissues back to the heart; exceptions are the pulmonary and umbilical veins, both of which carry oxygenated blood to the heart. In contrast to veins, arteries carry blood away from the heart.
Veins are less muscular than arteries and are often closer to the skin. There are valves in most veins to prevent backflow.
The largest veins in the human body are the venae cavae. These are two large veins which enter the right atrium of the heart from above and below. The superior vena cava carries blood from the arms and head to the right atrium of the heart, while the inferior vena cava carries blood from the legs and abdomen to the heart. The inferior vena cava is retroperitoneal and runs to the right and roughly parallel to the abdominal aorta along the spine. Large veins feed into these two veins, and smaller veins into these. Together this forms the venous system.
Whilst the main veins hold a relatively constant position, the position of veins person to person can display quite a lot of variation.
Microscopically, veins have a thick outer layer made of connective tissue, called the tunica externa or tunica adventitia. There is a middle layer of bands of smooth muscle called tunica media, which are, in general, much thinner than those of arteries, as veins do not function primarily in a contractile manner and are not subject to the high pressures of systole, as arteries are. The interior is lined with endothelial cells called tunica intima. The precise location of veins varies much more from person to person than that of arteries.