Extracranial Venous abnormalities: A true pathological finding in patients with multiple sclerosis or an anatomical variant?

Eur Radiol. 2017 Jan;27(1):239-246. doi: 10.1007/s00330-016-4314-6. Epub 2016 Mar 24.


Objective: To evaluate the extracranial venous anatomy with contrast-enhanced MR venogram (CE-MRV) in patients without multiple sclerosis (MS), and assess the prevalence of various venous anomalies such as asymmetry and stenosis in this population.

Materials and methods: We prospectively recruited 100 patients without MS, aged 18-60 years, referred for contrast-enhanced MRI. They underwent additional CE-MRV from skull base to mediastinum on a 3T scanner. Exclusion criteria included prior neck radiation, neck surgery, neck/mediastinal masses or significant cardiac or pulmonary disease. Two neuroradiologists independently evaluated the studies to document asymmetry and stenosis in the jugular veins and prominence of collateral veins.

Results: Asymmetry of internal jugular veins (IJVs) was found in 75 % of subjects. Both observers found stenosis in the IJVs with fair agreement. Most stenoses were located in the upper IJV segments. Asymmetrical vertebral veins and prominence of extracranial collateral veins, in particular the external jugular veins, was not uncommon.

Conclusion: It is common to have stenoses and asymmetry of the IJVs as well as prominence of the collateral veins of the neck in patients without MS. These findings are in contrast to prior reports suggesting collateral venous drainage is rare except in MS patients.

Key points: • The venous anatomy of the neck in patients without MS demonstrates multiple variants • Asymmetry and stenoses of the internal jugular veins are common • Collateral neck veins are not uncommon in patients without MS • These findings do not support the theory of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency • MR venography is a useful imaging modality for assessing venous anatomy.

Keywords: Contrast-enhanced MR venography; Internal jugular veins; Neck; Stenosis; Venous anatomy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Collateral Circulation
  • Constriction, Pathologic / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Jugular Veins / abnormalities*
  • Jugular Veins / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mediastinum / blood supply
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / etiology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Neck / blood supply
  • Observer Variation
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Veins / abnormalities
  • Veins / pathology
  • Venous Insufficiency / complications
  • Venous Insufficiency / diagnostic imaging
  • Young Adult