Author Beware: Arteries vs. Veins

Do any of you watch the chef Gordon Ramsey? He’s a well-known British chef with a serious temper. It’s been well displayed on many of his shows. At times, he just begins to bang his head on the counter at the incompetence of some of his chefs.

That’s how I felt when I read this sentence in a manuscript.

“Her vein began to throb at her temple.”

Perhaps, I shouldn’t be so harsh. This person doesn’t have a medical background and perhaps it isn’t common knowledge that there is a big difference between arteries and veins.

There is.

Arteries carry blood away from your heart where it has just been oxygenated by your lungs. In order to carry the blood forward, the heart beats to propel it. Therefore, when an artery is severed, the blood spurts out with each heart beat in a fairly dramatic fashion. There is no question from the medical staff– “Do you think he got an artery?” It more like, “We’ve got a bleeder!” The blood is a brighter red because it is loaded with oxygen.

Only arteries throb. That’s how we feel your pulse– at an artery.

Veins carry blood to your heart to get reoxygenated. They don’t pulsate. The blood is darker in color and tends to ooze though if enough veins are severed– the bleeding can be quite brisk.

The correct way to phrase the above sentence would have been:

“The artery at her temple began to throb.”

And remember, all bleeding can lead to death if not controlled– whether is be venous or arterial.

Author Beware: Arterial Bleeding vs. Venous Bleeding

I’m going to start doing these “Author Beware” posts every now and then. When you see that heading, it signals I’m doing a post on something a published author has written that medically is questionable. Now, I won’t name the author or book, just the situation. So, if you know the book and/or author, please keep it close to the vest. This is merely for learning purposes.

In two novels recently, I’ve come across inaccurate descriptions of venous versus arterial bleeding. One novel in which a character had slit his wrists clearly described arterial bleeding but called in venous bleeding. Another novel described a puncture wound to the neck and a “geyser” of blood from the wound yet the character made it to the hospital with a dressing around his neck.

First, what is the difference between arterial and venous bleeding? A short anatomy lesson first. Arteries are on the forward side meaning this is blood that has just left the heart. In order for your heart to get blood through the body, it has to pump. The heart’s pumping is something you can feel… it’s called your pulse. Whereever you feel your pulse is an artery.

Venous blood is on the return side. This is blood that has off loaded its oxygen and is on its way back to the lungs. There’s not as much pressure, per se, in those vessels.

When you puncture an artery, it spurts, pretty dramatically, with each heartbeat. I saw a demonstration once of how long it would take someone to “bleed out” from an untreated arterial bleed to the knee which houses the popliteal artery. Now compared to some, this would be a smaller sized artery compared to your aorta. Any guesses?

About three minutes.

Venous bleeding doesn’t have the characteristic spurting with each heartbeat. It generally oozes though it can ooze quite a bit. Venous bleeding can also be deadly if there is enough of it left untreated.

Arterial bleeding is generally harder to control than venous bleeding. You have to apply a lot of pressure to get it to stop. Hence, my dismay at how a character who sustained an injury to his neck, likely the carotid artery, could have made it to the hospital with a simple dressing in place.

What do you think?