Internal jugular vein valves: an assessment of prevalence, morphology and competence by color Doppler echography in 240 healthy subjects.
ABSTRACT The presence of valves in the head and neck veins is known since classical anatomical dissections. Previous studies have investigated whether jugular veins show constant valves at their ostium and whether these valves are physiologically competent, but, unluckily, these studies have reported conflicting results. Further, recent observations have raised the question whether the incompetence of jugular vein valves might play a pivotal role in neurological disorders related to venous engorgement of the brain. In this study we examined 462 internal jugular veins by using an echocolorodoppler apparatus. In particular, we assessed the presence, morphology and competence of valves at their ostium. Unilateral jugular vein valves were present in 406 cases (88%), mainly on the right side. The most frequently observed morphology (75%, 305 cases) was the two-leaflet valve, and jugular vein valves were incompetent in the huge majority of cases (365 cases, 90%). Our findings confirm the anatomical variability predicted from classical anatomical studies but, unluckily, do not provide additional evidence on the possible role of jugular vein valves in physiology and pathology. Further studies are strongly needed to determine whether these valves actually play an important role in counteracting chest venous pressure and in preventing reflux towards the brain.
© 2010 Firenze University Press
ITALIAN JOURNAL OF ANATOMY AND EMBRYOLOGY
Vol. 115, n. 3: 185-189, 2010
Basic and Applied Anatomy
Internal jugular vein valves: an assessment of
prevalence, morphology and competence by Color
Doppler Echography in 240 healthy subjects
Debora Valecchi1, Duccio Bacci1, Massimo Gulisano2, Eleonora Sgambati3, Maurizio Sibilio4, Mario
Lipoma5 and Claudio Macchi1,6,*
1 Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation, IRCCS, Florence, Italy.
2 Department of Anatomy, Histology and Legal Medicine, University of Florence, Italy.
3 Department of Health Sciences, University of Molise, Italy.
4 Faculty of Sciences of Formation, University of Salerno, Italy.
5 Faculty of Motor Health Sciences, Kore University, Enna, Italy.
6 Department of Critical Care Medicine and Surgery, University of Florence, Italy.
Received March 22, 2010; accepted April 7, 2010.
The presence of valves in the head and neck veins is known since classical anatomical dissec-
tions. Previous studies have investigated whether jugular veins show constant valves at their
ostium and whether these valves are physiologically competent, but, unluckily, these studies
have reported confl icting results. Further, recent observations have raised the question wheth-
er the incompetence of jugular vein valves might play a pivotal role in neurological disorders
related to venous engorgement of the brain. In this study we examined 462 internal jugular
veins by using an echocolorodoppler apparatus. In particular, we assessed the presence, mor-
phology and competence of valves at their ostium. Unilateral jugular vein valves were present
in 406 cases (88%), mainly on the right side. The most frequently observed morphology (75%,
305 cases) was the two-leafl et valve, and jugular vein valves were incompetent in the huge
majority of cases (365 cases, 90%). Our fi ndings confi rm the anatomical variability predicted
from classical anatomical studies but, unluckily, do not provide additional evidence on the pos-
sible role of jugular vein valves in physiology and pathology. Further studies are strongly need-
ed to determine whether these valves actually play an important role in counteracting chest
venous pressure and in preventing refl ux towards the brain.
Internal jugular vein valves, echo-color-doppler.
Jugular vein valves are known since the seventeenth century, when Riolano fi rst
(Riolano, 1649) and Kerckring afterwards (Kerkcring, 1670) consistently reported the
presence of one- or two leafl et valves at the level of jugular vein ostium in the majori-
ty of their cadaveric dissections. However, subsequent studies on cadavers conducted
at the beginning of the last century (Poirier and Charpy, 1903; Chiarugi, 1912) failed
*Correspondence author: Phone: 39 055 2601294. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Debora Valecchi, Duccio Bacci, Massimo Gulisano, et al.
to consistently report the presence of jugular vein valves, particularly in the left inter-
nal jugular vein. Thus, due to the conflicting results about their presence and their
morphology, these anatomical structures have been considered for a long time as an
embryological residues and their hemodynamic role has been underestimated.
In the last years jugular vein valves have been accurately studied in large sets of
cadavers (Delausgiers, 1994) and the presence of jugular vein valves has appeared as
a frequent finding, with the two-leaflet morphology as the most prevalent type. Fur-
thermore, by using jugular vein catheterization these studies found that most jugular
vein valves were competent. On the contrary, studies conducted by using echocolor-
doppler found that most jugular vein valves were incompetent, so that jugular vein
valve incompetence has been for a long time considered as a normal finding (Macchi
and Catini, 1994).
Akkawi (2002) has recently suggested that the incompetence of jugular vein valves
might cause cerebral venous reflux and other authors have hypothesized that their mal-
function might play a substantial role in cerebral air embolism (Nedelmann, 2006), pul-
monary hypertension (Doepp, 2008) and transient global amnesia (Cejas et al., 2010).
Aim of this study was to make an anatomical assessment of jugular vein valves,
including their presence, structural morphology and competence, and the relation-
ships with sex, age, body weight, height, and internal jugular vein diameter at the
Subjects and Methods
A total of 240 subjects were included in the study for an echocolordoppler examina-
tion of internal jugular veins and their valves. All the subjects included were healthy, in
particular they were free from cardiovascular diseases; a preliminary echocardiography
was performed on all subjects to exclude cardiac valve stenosis or incompetence. Nine
subjects were excluded from the study due to inadequate acoustic window.
The remaining 231 subjects (109 men and 122 women; age range: 21-92 years)
were studied in the supine position with echocolordoppler. We used an Acuson 128
XP Doppler ultrasonography apparatus with a 5 MHz probe. We examined jugular
veins bilaterally at the ostium, observing the valve presence, gross structure and com-
petence, and we measured the jugular vein diameter. Valve competence was assessed
by asking the subjects to inflate into a cannula connected to a mercury sphyg-
momanomether till reaching, and maintaining for at least 5 seconds, a pressure of 20
mmHg, and observing the presence of a retrograde color jet.
As is well known, jugular veins do not have a regular, circular cross-section, and
their caliber is influenced by the cardiac cycle. For these reasons we assessed the
internal jugular vein diameter at the ostial level by calculating the mean value of four
perimetral measurements taken in the various phases of the cardiac cycle.
Of the 462 Internal jugular veins studied, we documented a valve apparatus in 88
% of cases (N = 406) (Table 1). The remaining 12 % subjects, in whom we were not
Internal jugular vein valves
able to detect the presence of any valve, were in prevalence men: however there was
no statistically significant difference between sexes. The most common type was the
two-leaflet valve, found in 305 patients (75 %), followed by the single-leaflet type in
57 patients (14%), and by the least common three-leaflet valve in 44 patients (11%)
(Table 2). No statistically significant correlation was found between the number of
valve leaflets and age, side, sex, height or body weight.
The average position of valve apparatus was at 28 mm distance from the jugulo-
The mean diameter of the jugular vein was 13.5 mm, and was significantly larger
in male than in female subjects (p < 0.01) (Table 3). The diameter showed a tendency
to increase with advancing age, however the data did not reach statistical signifi-
cance (Table 4).
During the assessment of valve competence, reflux during inflation was observed
in 90% of patients (N = 365) (Table 5). Only in 10% of cases (41 subjects) there was
Table 1 – Presence of ostial valves in the internal jugular veins.
Total casesPresence Absence
462 406 (88%)56 (12%)
Table 2 – Morphology of valvular apparatus.
Total of casesTwo CuspsOne CuspThree Cusps
406305 (75%)57 (14%) 44 (11%)
Table 3 – Internal jugular vein diameter ± standard deviation (mm).
Total (n = 462) MalesFemales
13.5 ± 1.815.8 ± 1.812.2 ± 1.5
15.5 ± 1.4
16.1 ± 1.4
11.9 ± 1.5
12.5 ± 1.5
Table 4 – Differences in the mean diameter of internal jugular vein caliber between consecutive age classes.
Classes of Agep
Debora Valecchi, Duccio Bacci, Massimo Gulisano, et al.
no reflux: of these, 21 were men and 20 women, all under the age of 20 years. The
majority of competent valves were of the two-leaflet type (29 cases, 13 men and 16
women), followed by the single-leaflet type (10 cases, 6 men and 4 women), and by
the three-leaflet type in 2 cases (both men) (Table 6).
Discussion and conclusion
Anatomical textbooks normally report valves to be absent from the venous dis-
tricts of neck and head (Poirier and Charpy, 1903; Chiarugi, 1912; Testut and Latarjet,
1972), assuming that they are poorly developed or regressed with evolution, because
there is no need to overcome the force of gravity in the drainage process.
Our results agree with previous anatomical observations, particularly about the
frequent absence of internal jugular vein valves on the left side (Lepori et al., 1999;
The results of pressure test on valve competence seem to lead to the conclusion
that jugular vein valve incompetence represents a normal finding in healthy subject.
It is otherwise known that during coughing, defecation strain, Valsalva maneuver
or chest compression during resuscitation procedures, the jugular pressure increases
and the cerebral venous flow can be inverted (Lurie et al., 2002; Bronlow and McKin-
ney, 1985). Many studied are trying to correlate such transitory venous flow inversion
witgh a variety of transient cerebral effects, such as cough-induced headache (Knap-
pertz, 1996). Recent studies are focusing on the strict association between jugular
vein valve incompetence and transient global amnesia (Cejas et al., 2010), support-
ing Lewis’ hypothesis of brain venous congestion (Lewis, 1998), which would induce
mesio-temporal transient ischemia.
Indeed, further studies are needed to evaluate whether there is a real increased
prevalence of jugular vein valve absence or incompetence in patients with transient
global amnesia or, more likely, whether the presence of at least one competent valve
acts as a protective factor from cerebral venous engorgement in the case of increased
chest venous pressure. Some authors suggest to concentrating on valve motion
instead of competence, being this aspect complex and various, and probably the real
index of valve function (Morimoto et al., 2009).
With regard to caliber, our findings are also similar to those of previous studies
(Macchi and Catini, 1994; Lepori et al., 1999; Sanchez-Hanke, 2000). The observation
Table 5 – Valvular competence.
TotalIncontinent ValvesContinent Valves
406365 (90%)41 (10%)
Table 6 – Morphology of continent valves.
Total Two CuspsOne Cusp Three Cusps
Internal jugular vein valves
of a statistically significant larger caliber in male subjects is in agreement with our
previous observations (Macchi and Catini, 1994) from other vascular districts, where
male subjects always demonstrated a larger caliber of both venous and arterial ves-
sels, when compared with female subjects of the same age.
Akkawi N.M., Agosti C., Borroni B., Rozzini L., Magoni M., Vignolo L.A., Padovani
A. (2002) Jugular valve incompetence: a study using air contrast ultrasonography
on a general population. J. Ultrasound. Med. 21: 747–751.
Brownlow R.L. Jr., McKinney W.M. (1985) Ultrasonic evaluation of jugular venous
valve competence. J. Ultrasound. Med. 4: 169–172.
Cejas C., Fernandez Cisneros L., Lagos R., Zuk C., Ameriso S.F. (2010) Internal jugu-
lar vein valve incompetence is highly prevalent in transient global amnesia. Stroke
Chiarugi G. (1912) Istituzioni di Anatomia dell’Uomo. Vol II. Società Editrice Libraria,
Milano. Pp. 954 and following.
Delausgiers B., Vaysse Ph., Combes J.M., Guitard J., Moscovici J., Vinsentin M., Var-
don D., Becuè J. (1994) Surg. Radiol. Anat. 16: 173-177.
Doepp F., Bahr D., John M., Hoernig S., Valdueza J.M., Schreiber S. J. (2008) internal
jugular vein valve incompetence in COPD and primary pulmonary hypertension.
J. Clin. Ultrasound. 36: 480–484.
Kerckring T. (1670) Spicilegium Anatomicum. Andreas Fris, Amsterdam. Obs. IV, 10,
1213, P1 IV.
Knappertz V.A. (1996) Cough headache and the competency of jugular venous valves.
Neurology 45: 1497.
Lepori D., Capasso P., Fournier D., Genton C.Y., Schnyder P. (1999) High-resolution
ultrasound evaluation of internal jugular venous valves. Eur. Radiol. 9: 1222-1226.
Lewis S.L. (1998) Aetiology of transient global amnesia. Lancet 352: 397–399.
Lurie F., Kistner R.L., Eklof B. (2002) The mechanism of venous valve closure in nor-
mal physiologic conditions. J. Vasc. Surg. 35: 713–717.
Macchi C., Catini C. (1994) The valves of the internal jugular veins: a statistical inves-
tigation in 120 living subjects using ultrasonic tomography. It. J. Anat. Embryol.
Morimoto A., Takase I., Shimizu Y., Nishi K. (2009) Assessment of cervical venous
blood flow and the craniocervical venous valve using ultrasound sonography.
Leg. Med. 11: 10-17.
Nedelmann M., Pittermann P., Gast K.K., Mueller-Forell W., Dieterich M. (2006).
Involvement of jugular valve insufficiency in cerebral venous air embolism. J.
Neuroimaging 17: 258-260.
Poirier P., Charpy A. (1903) Traitè d’Anatomie Humaine, tome 2. 2me ed. Masson,
Paris. Pp. 857-956.
Riolano J. (1649) Opera Anatomica. Gaspar Meturas, Paris, pp. 346-347, 787.
Sanchez-Hanke M., Püschel K., Leuwer R. (2000) Anatomy of the valve system of the
internal jugular vein. Laryngorhinootologie 79: 332-336.
Testut L., Latarjet A. (1972) Trattato di Anatomia Umana, 9a ed, Utet, Torino. P. 954.