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How does jugular vein distension work?

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Quick Answer

Distension of the jugular veins results in a visible bulging of the neck, and it is usually a sign of serious illness or trauma. According to HealthGrades.com, jugular vein distension can be caused by blockage or backflow issues in the heart's right atrium. As blood flows down to this chamber, it can be blocked or pushed back up by a damaged heart.

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Full Answer

Right-side heart failure is the most common cause of jugular vein distension, according to HowStuffWorks.com. In this condition, the right side of the heart develops difficulty receiving and passing along deoxygenated blood from the body's veins, and pressure begins to build up in what is normally the low-pressure part of the circulatory system. The condition can be diagnosed by having the patient recline at an angle of less than 30 degrees and observing the person's neck under a light. If the distension is observable under these conditions, or if the patient's pulse can be seen in the movements of the jugular vein, right-side heart failure is immediately suspected.

Right-sided heart failure, according to the American Heart Association, is usually a result of the overload placed on the right side by the previous failure of the left side of the heart. When the left side fails to adequately pump blood out of the heart, pressure builds up and flows back through the right side, and then on to the jugular vein.

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