External Iliac Vein

The external iliac vein is a component of our circulatory system in the pelvis. The external iliac vein is often imaged using tests like ultrasound and CT.  This article will discuss its function, anatomy, imaging and common abnormalities. 

What is the External Iliac Vein?

The external iliac vein is a major blood vessel located in the pelvic region. It is responsible for transporting deoxygenated blood from the lower limbs back to the heart. This vein is a continuation of the femoral vein and extends up the pelvis where it joins with the internal iliac vein to form the common iliac vein.

Location and Anatomy of the External Iliac Vein

The external iliac vein runs alongside the external iliac artery. Its journey begins at the inguinal ligament, continuing through the pelvis and merging with the internal iliac vein. This vein has several tributaries, including the inferior epigastric vein and the deep circumflex iliac vein, which play roles in draining blood from the abdominal wall and lower limbs.

Function of the External Iliac Vein

The primary function of the external iliac vein is to return deoxygenated blood from the lower extremities and parts of the pelvic region to the heart. By doing so, it plays an important role in maintaining proper blood circulation and ensuring that the body’s tissues receive adequate oxygen and nutrients.

Common Issues Affecting the External Iliac Vein

Like other veins in the body, the external iliac vein can be affected by various conditions. Some common issues include:

1. **Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)**: A condition where a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the leg, which can sometimes extend into the external iliac vein. DVT can lead to swelling, pain, and potential complications if the clot dislodges and travels to the lungs.

2. **Compression Syndromes**: The external iliac vein can sometimes be compressed by surrounding structures.

3. **Varicose Veins**: Although more common in superficial veins, varicose veins can occasionally affect deeper veins, including the external iliac vein. This can lead to pain, swelling, and a feeling of heaviness in the legs.

Diagnosis and Treatment of External Iliac Vein Conditions

Diagnosing issues with the external iliac vein typically involves imaging techniques such as ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI. These tools help visualize the vein and identify any abnormalities or blockages.

1. Ultrasound
• Doppler Ultrasound: This type of ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of blood flow through the veins. It can help detect blood clots, blockages, and the condition of the vein walls.
• Venous Duplex Ultrasound: Combines traditional ultrasound and Doppler technology to provide detailed images and assess the speed and direction of blood flow.

2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
• MR Venography: This imaging technique uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the veins. It is particularly useful for visualizing deep veins and identifying conditions like DVT or May-Thurner syndrome.

3. Computed Tomography (CT)
• CT Venography: Involves the use of X-rays and computer technology to create cross-sectional images of the veins. It can help detect blood clots, vein compression, and other abnormalities.

4. Contrast Venography
• This invasive procedure involves injecting a contrast dye into the veins, which makes them visible on X-rays. It provides detailed images of the venous system and can identify blockages or structural issues.


Treatment for conditions affecting the external iliac vein varies depending on the specific issue. For instance:

– **Deep Vein Thrombosis**: Treatment may include anticoagulant medications to prevent clot formation, compression stockings to reduce swelling, and in severe cases, procedures to remove the clot.

– **Compression Syndromes**: Treatment might involve lifestyle changes, such as weight loss or physical therapy, and in severe cases, surgical interventions to relieve the compression.

– **Varicose Veins**: Treatment can include lifestyle changes, such as exercising and elevating the legs, and medical procedures like sclerotherapy or laser treatments to remove or close off the affected veins.


The external iliac vein is an important part of the circulatory system, playing a key role in returning deoxygenated blood from the lower body to the heart. Understanding its function, abnormalities and imaging allows effective diagnosis and treatment.   By being aware of the symptoms and seeking timely medical attention, we can address any issues with the external iliac vein and ensure better long-term health outcomes.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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