Jugular Vein Distention: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Payal Kohli, M.D., FACC
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Jugular vein distention (JVD) is a condition in which increased pressure causes your jugular vein to bulge. The jugular veins on either side of your neck carry blood back to your heart from your head. JVD can indicate several cardiovascular issues, including heart failure, high blood pressure, and fluid accumulation in the blood vessels. Doctors typically treat JVD by prescribing medications to reduce the pressure inside the heart and recommending lifestyle changes.

Read on to learn more about JVD, including what causes it and how doctors treat it.

What is jugular vein distention?

A person holds their neck
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JVD is a condition that occurs when your central venous pressure (CVP), which is the pressure inside your vena cava, increases. The vena cava is the largest vein in the body, and it carries blood to the heart from other body areas. There are two parts of the vena cava:

  • The superior vena cava moves blood from the head, neck, chest, and arms.
  • The inferior vena cava moves blood from the abdomen, legs, and feet.

Your internal and external jugular veins carry blood from your head and neck to the superior vena cava, which empties into the heart. The external jugular vein is close to the skin on the side of your neck.

The right internal jugular vein connects to the heart through the superior vena cava. This means that doctors can use the jugular vein to assess the pressure inside the heart.

What causes jugular vein distention?

Many cardiovascular conditions can cause an increase in your CVP and lead to JVD. Some of these conditions include:

  • Right sided heart failure: This occurs when the right side of your heart cannot pump blood effectively, causing the jugular vein to bulge from fluid accumulation.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: High blood pressure in the arteries between the lungs and the heart can cause the jugular vein to bulge.
  • Constrictive pericarditis: This condition occurs when the pericardium, which is the sac around the heart, becomes infected or inflamed and scarred. When this happens, the heart’s ability to fill with blood is restricted, leading to an accumulation of blood in the veins.
  • Superior vena cava obstruction: This is a rare condition wherein the superior vena cava becomes partially or fully blocked. It is usually due to a blood clot or tumor.
  • Tricuspid valve stenosis: This condition occurs when the opening of the tricuspid valve, which regulates blood flow in the heart, becomes narrowed. As a result, blood cannot flow effectively.
  • Cardiac tamponade: This is a serious condition that occurs when fluid accumulates in the pericardium. This buildup compresses the heart and restricts blood flow.

What other symptoms might occur with jugular vein distention?

Depending on the underlying cause, JVD can occur along with other symptoms. These can include:

In some cases, JVD may be a symptom of a life threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care or call 911 if you are experiencing serious symptoms, which may include:

How do doctors diagnose jugular vein distention?

Doctors can typically diagnose JVD with a physical examination.

To measure your jugular venous pressure (JVP), your doctor will measure the bulge. To do this, they will have you lie on an examination table with your upper body elevated and your head turned to the left. They will then measure the height of the right internal jugular vein in various places along your neck, which will help them determine your JVP.

In some cases, doctors may not be able to perform the standard measurement due to physical characteristics such as a thick neck. Therefore, they may rely on tools such as ultrasound scans to assess your jugular vein and the pressure in your heart.

In addition to measuring your JVP, your doctor may order further tests, including:

What are the treatments for jugular vein distention?

Treatment for JVD will involve treating the underlying cause. These treatments can include:

  • Diuretics: These medications reduce blood pressure by increasing the amount of water and salt expelled in your urine.
  • ACE inhibitors: These medications reduce blood pressure by relaxing your veins and arteries.
  • Beta-blockers: These medications reduce blood pressure by reducing stress on the blood vessels and the heart.
  • Lifestyle changes: Your doctor may recommend making changes to your diet and exercise routines to help lower your blood pressure. Such modifications may include changes in your fluid intake.

In severe cases, surgery and even a heart transplant may be necessary, depending on the underlying cause.

You may also need additional medications to treat certain underlying conditions, such as pulmonary hypertension or heart failure.

What is the outlook for someone with jugular vein distention?

The outlook for someone with JVD depends on the underlying cause. Adhering to your doctor’s treatment plan is essential.

JVD can often be one of the first signs of a serious underlying condition. Talking with your doctor and starting treatment promptly will help improve your outlook.

What are some potential complications of jugular vein distention?

The conditions that cause JVD can also cause complications, some of which may be serious. These include:

  • fatigue
  • memory or cognitive problems
  • liver problems
  • kidney problems

What are the risk factors for jugular vein distention?

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing JVD, including:

Can you prevent jugular vein distention?

Preventing JVD involves taking steps to reduce your risk of developing the underlying conditions that can cause it and monitoring your weight and fluid intake carefully.

You can reduce your risk of developing JVD by talking with your doctor about lifestyle changes you can make and any medications you are taking or might need to take.

FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about JVD.

How do you check for jugular vein distention?

To check for JVD, your doctor will have you lie on a table with your head elevated and turn your head to the left. They will measure the height of the jugular vein on the right side of your neck. The height will help your doctor determine if increased pressure in your veins is causing JVD.

What does jugular vein distention indicate?

Many underlying conditions can cause JVD, including heart failure, narrowed blood vessels, and fluid accumulation around the heart.

What is the difference between jugular venous pressure and jugular vein distention?

JVP reflects the pressure in your jugular vein. An elevated JVP leads to JVD, or a bulging of the jugular vein.

Summary

JVD is a condition wherein increased blood pressure causes your jugular vein to bulge. Many cardiovascular conditions — including heart failure, high blood pressure, and fluid accumulation around the heart — can cause JVD.

Doctors typically treat JVD by prescribing medications to reduce the pressure and fluid in your heart and recommending lifestyle changes. In serious cases, surgery or a heart transplant may be necessary.

Talk with your doctor if you think that you are experiencing JVD.

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Medical Reviewer: Dr. Payal Kohli, M.D., FACC
Last Review Date: 2022 May 24
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