Brachiocephalic vein

Last revised by Mostafa Elfeky on 12 Dec 2022

The brachiocephalic veins, previously known as the innominate veins, are large paired valveless asymmetric central veins that drain the head, neck, upper limbs and part of the thorax and mediastinum

Gross anatomy


In the root of the neck, the internal jugular (IJV) and subclavian veins unite to form the brachiocephalic veins posterior to the medial ends of the clavicles.


The left brachiocephalic vein is approximately 6 cm long and runs a long, oblique course to the right through the superior mediastinum anterior to the branches of the aortic arch to unite with the right brachiocephalic vein posterior to the first sternocostal joint to form the superior vena cava.

The right brachiocephalic vein is much shorter, approximately 2.5 cm long and runs a vertical course anterior to the brachiocephalic trunk. It becomes the superior vena cava as it is joined from the left by the left brachiocephalic vein.

Right brachiocephalic vein

NB: on the right the superior intercostal vein usually drains into the azygos vein

Left brachiocephalic vein
  • anteriorly: pleura, upper lobes, thymus, manubrium, strap muscles (sternohyoid muscle, sternothyroid muscle)

  • posteriorly: aortic arch (left brachiocephalic vein), great vessels, the dome of the pleura, vagus nerve

Variant anatomy

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: mediastinum (Gray's illustration)
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  • Figure 2: venous development (Gray's illustrations)
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  • Case 1: contrast refluxing into a thymic vein
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