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Logo of jnnpsycJournal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and PsychiatryVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2003 January; 74(1): 7–9.
PMCID: PMC1738191

Spontaneous retinal venous pulsation: aetiology and significance


Spontaneous retinal venous pulsation is seen as a subtle variation in the calibre of the retinal vein(s) as they cross the optic disc. The physical principles behind the venous pulsations has been the point of much debate. Initial theories suggested that the pulsation occurred because of the rise in intraocular pressure in the eye with the pulse pressure. This article presents an argument that this is not the case. The pulsations are in fact caused by variation in the pressure gradient along the retinal vein as it traverses the lamina cribrosa. The pressure gradient varies because of the difference in the pulse pressure between the intraocular space and the cerebrospinal fluid. The importance of this is that as the intracranial pressure rises the intracranial pulse pressure rises to equal the intraocular pulse pressure and the spontaneous venous pulsations cease. Thus it is shown that cessation of the spontaneous venous pulsation is a sensitive marker of raised intracranial pressure. The article discusses the specificity of the absence of spontaneous venous pulsation and describes how the patient should be examined to best elicit this important sign.

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