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What is jugular vein distention?

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The numerous body systems help humans to survive and thrive in this world. When things go wrong in the body or the body detects a harmful ongoing process, the body will alter its function to help the body become normal again. While the body struggles to make things right, the body gives out signs or symptoms that help healthcare practitioners to detect what is going on and provide suitable treatment. One of the signs that a body shows when a person is sick is jugular vein distention.

Jugular vein is one of the veins in the neck and exists on both sides of the neck. It collects deoxygenated blood from the skull, face and brain back to the heart. This might sound graphic or rather gory for some and might be disturbing but the importance of the jugular vein can be seen in movies, dramas or even in real life cases when a person cut their throat or accidentally got their neck cut by bad people or sport accidents. When the cut gets too deep in the neck or badly damaged the jugular vein, severe bleeding will happen almost instantly and the person may die due to loss of blood.

Jugular vein usually is not visible in normal condition and no pulse can be detected. If you feel a pulse on the side of the neck, that could be the carotid artery. A jugular vein distention can be simply put as the bulging of the neck vein. If a person is presented with a jugular vein distention, it can be a sign of an increased pressure inside the vena cava (the largest vein that runs to the heart) which resulted from heart problems specifically affecting the heart’s right atrium. To check for a jugular vein distention, the physician will assess the jugular vein pressure. The way to assess is by asking the patient to be seated at 30-45 degrees with the head slightly tilted away from facing the physician. Jugular vein distention is translated as increase of the jugular venous pressure. Elevation of this pressure can be linked to

  • heart right failure- occurs when the heart’s right ventricle loses its ability to pump blood. It is marked by shortness of breath especially when lying flat and body swelling like the leg, foot and ankle.
  • cardiac tamponade- a condition of the space around the heart (pericardial space) are filled with blood or fluid, usually is marked by low blood pressure (hypotension), jugular vein bulging and muffled heart sounds when auscultated (checking the heart sound) using stethoscope.
  • tricuspid stenosis- the tricuspid valve; lies between the two heart’s right chambers and functions to let the blood flow from the upper right chamber (right atrium) to the lower right chamber (right ventricle). Tricuspid stenosis is the narrowing of the tricuspid valve that prevents blood from returning to the right atrium from the right ventricle, it is commonly caused by rheumatic fever. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, cold skin and abdominal discomfort at the right upper quadrant.
  • tricuspid regurgitation – it occurs as a result of the valve flaps cannot be closed properly. This led to the blood flow backward the atrium which in the end causes the heart pump to work harder to make the blood flow through the valve. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, breathing difficulty and swelling of the leg.

Measuring the jugular vein pressure not only functions to know the abnormality in the right heart, it is also used to see fluid status of a patient. A low jugular vein pressure may indicate low blood volume or dehydration.