Jugular vein thrombosis is caused by a blood clot in one of the jugular veins. Although very rare, jugular vein thrombosis can cause serious complications if it’s not treated. Medical attention is critical if you have any symptoms of this condition.

Jugular vein thrombosis happens when a blood clot affects the flow of blood in an internal jugular vein. The internal jugular veins are large veins, one on each side of your neck, that drain oxygen-depleted blood from your brain.

Because jugular vein thrombosis reduces or blocks the flow of blood through a jugular vein, it can cause serious complications. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for improving outlook.

This article looks at what can cause jugular vein thrombosis, as well as the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Jugular vein thrombosis is caused by a blood clot in one of your internal jugular veins. Generally speaking, several factors can contribute to blood clot formation, including:

  • increased blood clotting, called a hypercoagulable state
  • changes in blood flow, such as a slowing of blood flow through a blood vessel
  • injury or trauma to a blood vessel

There are several factors that can put you at an increased risk of jugular vein thrombosis. They include:

It’s important to point out that having risk factors does not mean that you’ll develop jugular vein thrombosis. It just means that you’re at an increased risk of the condition compared to individuals without risk factors.

Jugular vein thrombosis is actually very uncommon. A 2011 study found that out of 1,948 people referred to an internal medicine department for deep vein thrombosis, only 29 (1.5%) of them had jugular vein thrombosis.

Some people with jugular vein thrombosis may not have any symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include:

If you develop any of the symptoms above, it’s important to seek medical attention. While jugular vein thrombosis is rare overall, your symptoms could be caused by another condition that needs to be addressed.

Imaging is used to help confirm the presence of a blood clot in a jugular vein. One test that’s useful in diagnosing jugular vein thrombosis is a Doppler ultrasound.

A Doppler ultrasound is a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to create images of moving objects like blood cells. This can show a doctor how blood is flowing through a blood vessel and can help identify blockages.

Other types of imaging may also be used to diagnose jugular vein thrombosis, including:

Laboratory tests are also used during the diagnostic process. However, they cannot confirm or rule out jugular vein thrombosis on their own. Some examples of laboratory tests that a healthcare professional may order include:

There aren’t any specific guidelines for treating jugular vein thrombosis. Instead, treatment is tailored to your individual situation and your risk of complications.

Jugular vein thrombosis is often treated using anticoagulant therapy, which means a healthcare professional prescribes drugs that reduce your blood’s ability to clot.

Typically, anticoagulant therapy involves the injection of an anticoagulant, often heparin. You’ll also take an oral anticoagulant drug like warfarin for a period of time as you recover. This helps to reduce the likelihood of more blood clots.

Thrombolytics may be used for some situations, particularly when symptoms are severe or life threatening, or when anticoagulant therapy has not been effective. These are drugs that are introduced directly into your bloodstream to break up the clot.

How long does it take to dissolve a blood clot in the jugular vein?

Anticoagulant treatment starts working shortly after it’s started, but treating jugular vein thrombosis typically lasts at least 3 months. This is to both ensure that the blood clot dissolves and to prevent the formation of additional blood clots.

What are the first signs of a blood clot in the neck?

A 2021 review found that neck pain and swelling were the most common symptoms of jugular vein thrombosis. In addition to these symptoms, another 2021 review found that headache was also reported frequently.

How serious is jugular vein thrombosis?

Jugular vein thrombosis is serious and can lead to complications like pulmonary embolism and post-thrombotic syndrome. However, when diagnosed and treated promptly, jugular vein thrombosis can be treated with individuals more likely to experience a low rate of complications.

Jugular vein thrombosis happens when a blood clot restricts the flow of blood in one of your internal jugular veins. It’s a serious condition that can lead to complications and death if left untreated.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment are key to improving the outlook for people with a jugular vein thrombosis diagnosis. The condition can typically be treated effectively using anticoagulant therapy.

It’s important to get prompt medical attention if you develop unexplained neck pain or swelling. While jugular vein thrombosis may not be the cause of your symptoms, you may still have another condition that needs attention.