What is jugular vein distention?

The jugular veins carry blood from the head to the superior vena cava (the main vein of the upper body), which empties into the heart. The external jugular vein is closest to the skin and can sometimes be seen as a rope-like bulge on the side of the neck. Bulging of the external jugular vein is known as jugular vein distention.

Jugular Vein Distention Spotlight

The height of the bulge measured from the top of the clavicle, or collar bone, is an indirect indicator of the central venous pressure, the pressure in the right atrium (the heart chamber that receives blood returning from the body).

Jugular vein distention is affected by the position of your body. If the height is greater than 3 to 4 centimeters when measured while you are in bed with your head elevated 45 degrees, this may signal vascular or heart disease. Smaller amounts of jugular vein distention can occur in people without heart or vascular disease.

Increased blood volume, which can occur with heart failure, or anything that interferes with filling of the right atrium or movement of the blood into the right ventricle, can increase the central venous pressure and the amount of jugular vein distention. For example, jugular vein distention may be raised by a narrowing or blockage of the superior vena cava, which can interfere with blood return to the heart. It can also be caused by constrictive pericarditis (infection of the lining that surrounds the heart) and cardiac tamponade (filling of the sac around the heart with blood or other fluid), both of which restrict the volume of the heart. Right-sided heart failure is another cause of elevated jugular vein distention.

Jugular vein distention can accompany serious vascular and heart conditions. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, pale skin or pallor, bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails, profuse sweating, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing (tachypnea), rapid heart rate (tachycardia), increasing fatigue or weakness (loss of strength), or change in level of consciousness.

If your jugular vein distention is persistent, worsens, or otherwise causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with jugular vein distention?

Jugular vein distention may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the blood vessels, heart, and fluid volume may also involve other body systems.

Circulatory symptoms that may occur along with jugular vein distention

Jugular vein distention may accompany other symptoms affecting the... Read more about jugular vein distentionsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes jugular vein distention?

Jugular vein distention is an indirect indicator of the pressure in the right atrium, the heart chamber that receives blood from the body. Increases in blood volume, or anything that interferes with filling of the heart or movement of the blood within the heart from the right atrium to the right ventricle, can increase the central venous pressure.

Common causes of jugular vein... Read more about jugular vein distentioncauses

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation