What Causes Jugular Vein Distention? Symptoms & How To Check It?

Jugular vein carries deoxygenated blood from the region of the head and drains into the vena-cava, which eventually drains into right atrium of the heart. In general, the external branch of the vein is close to the surface of the skin resulting in an appearance of a protrusion along the either sides of neck.

The extent of the protrusion (i.e. height) is often considered as an approximate indicator of the pressure in central venous system.

The distension of the jugular vein depends upon the body’s position. It is normal to have a small amount of distention of the jugular vein however a height of the more than four centimeters when a head is positioned at an angle of 45 degrees, it is indicative of cardiovascular disease.

The causes of the distention of the jugular vein are attributed to elevated pressure in the right side of the heart (i.e. right atrium and right ventricle). There are several factors that can contribute to this situation,

  • Blockage or narrowing of the vena-cava interferes with deoxygenated blood from entering into the heart.
  • Constrictive pericarditis i.
    e. infection of the pericardium (the lining surrounding the heart).
  • Cardiac tamponade which is referred to accumulation of blood or fluid in the pericardial region.
  • Right sided cardiac failure can also result in elevated pressure within the jugular vein.

Symptoms Of Jugular Vein Distention

The symptoms associated with jugular vein distension can be categories into circulatory symptoms and other symptoms. These include,

  • Sensation of pressure in the chest with or without chest pain.
  • Palpitations or increased heart rate.
  • Coldness in the hands and feet due to reduced circulation of blood in the peripheries.
  • Increased fatigue and generalized weakness, with exhaustion on slightest exertion.
  • Nausea with or without vomiting.
  • Reduced appetite with weight gain or weight loss.
  • Confusion and loss of memory may also be observed.
  • Swelling and edema of the lower extremities with increased urge to urinate at night.

Some of the more serious and life threatening symptoms associated with the condition include the following,

  • Reduced production of urine is observed.
  • Bluish discoloration of the finger nails and lips.
  • Anxiety along with profuse sweating.
  • Alteration in the levels of consciousness ranging from alertness to unresponsiveness.
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing or labored breathing.

If these symptoms are observed, it is important to consult a medical professional immediately, in order to avoid further complications.

How To Check Jugular Vein Distention?

In order to check the distention of the jugular vein, the patient is positioned under 45 degree along the filling levels of the vein. In healthy people, the filling level of the jugular vein is less than 3 centimeters about the sternal angle (i.e. the angle between the clavicle and the neck).

In order to visualize the jugular vein, one needs to look along the surface of sternocleidomastoid muscle, as one can appreciate the movement/pulsations in relation to the neck, when looking sideways. It is also recommended that in order to correctly visualize the jugular vein, one should move from left to right, at a right angle, as opposed to coming towards it.

In general the pulsation of the jugular vein are difficult to observe, however for a trained cardiologist, this is an indication of central venous pressure and provides indications regarding the overall health of the heart.

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