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The cephalic vein, along with the basilic vein, is one of the primary superficial veins that drain the upper limb 1. It courses through both the forearm and arm and terminates by draining into the axillary vein.
origin: radial aspect of the superficial venous network of the dorsum of the hand
location: courses upwards on the lateral aspect of the forearm and arm
drainage: palm of the hand, lateral aspect of the forearm and arm
tributaries: median cubital vein and accessory cephalic veins
termination: first part of axillary vein
The cephalic vein arises in the anatomical snuffbox from the radial side of the superficial venous network of the dorsum of the hand 2.
From the radial aspect of the superficial venous network dorsally, the cephalic vein arches around the radial aspect of the distal forearm to course through the anterolateral forearm 1. It then passes upwards over the anterior elbow region and ascends through the anterolateral arm, lateral to the biceps muscle in the deltopectoral groove, formed by the adjacent borders of the deltoid and pectoralis major muscles 2,3. The vein then passes through the anterior wall of the axilla, perforating the clavipectoral fascia to drain into the first part of the axillary vein 2,4.
Accessory cephalic veins can arise from either a venous plexus on the dorsum of the forearm or from the medial aspect of the dorsal venous network of the hands. These accessory veins then unite with the cephalic vein just inferior to the elbow 1. It may also receive blood from the variable median cubital vein.
The cephalic vein terminates by draining into the first part of the axillary vein at the clavipectoral triangle 2.
The cephalic vein drains the lateral side of the superficial venous network of the dorsum, which in turn drains blood from the palm of the hand 2. As it ascends, the cephalic vein drains blood from the lateral aspect of the upper limbs via small superficial veins 1.
Cephalic vein is a potential vessel for venepuncture. It is located at at median distance of 2.1 cm (0.8 to 2.6 cm) lateral to the basilic artery at the antecubital fossa. However, 20% of the cephalic veins are not visible on ultrasound in healthy people 5.