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Although physicians began associating conspicuous neck veins with heart disease almost three centuries ago, the jugular venous pulse remains an often ignored component of the physical examination. Many physicians have not invested in the necessary understanding of the technique, and there is a misconception that its examination is difficult and of limited clinical value. When performed properly, evaluation of the jugular venous pulse can be extremely useful in distinguishing the cause of dyspnea and edema.

The normal jugular venous pulse is reviewed, and pulse wave abnormalities are described, including ways in which they can provide clues to the diagnosis of certain disease states, ranging from pericardial disease to conduction disturbances. The jugular venous pulse provides a window into the right heart and an occasional glimpse of left heart hemodynamics. By peering through this window, clinicians can gain valuable information in the diagnostic evaluation of the cardiovascular patient.

(C) 2007 Southern Medical Association