Fetal left brachiocephalic vein in normal and abnormal conditions

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2012 Nov;40(5):542-8. doi: 10.1002/uog.11166.


Objectives: To establish values of fetal left brachiocephalic vein (LBCV) dimensions during normal pregnancy and determine whether routine assessment of the LBCV may help in identifying fetuses with congenital abnormalities of this vessel.

Methods: Fetal LBCV was assessed prospectively during ultrasound examinations in 431 normal singleton pregnancies. The visualization rate of the transverse view of the upper fetal chest at the level of drainage of the LBCV into the superior vena cava (SVC) by two-dimensional (2D) and 2D plus color Doppler ultrasound was evaluated. Reference ranges of LBCV diameter during non-complicated pregnancies were established. Interobserver and intraobserver measurement variability was analyzed. In addition, a retrospective review of the hospital medical records of 91 pregnancies with fetuses diagnosed with LBCV abnormalities was performed.

Results: Sonographic assessment of the fetal LBCV was consistently achieved in the second and third trimesters and in some fetuses in the first trimester of pregnancy. In normal fetuses LBCV diameter increased significantly throughout pregnancy, with a mean value of 0.7 mm at 11 weeks and 4.9 mm at term. Dilation of the fetal LBCV was noted in five cases of intracranial arteriovenous malformation and six cases of supracardiac type total anomalous pulmonary venous connection. Abnormal course of the LBCV was noted in 12 fetuses. In 63 fetuses with a persistent left SVC and a right SVC the LBCV was absent.

Conclusion: This is the first study describing an effective sonographic approach for the assessment of fetal LBCV dimensions during pregnancy. The normative data may provide an additional means of detecting rare anomalies of systemic and pulmonary veins during pregnancy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arteriovenous Malformations / diagnostic imaging
  • Brachiocephalic Veins / abnormalities*
  • Brachiocephalic Veins / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Fetus / abnormalities*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods*