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Ophthalmic veins

Recommended video: Blood vessels of the orbit [13:26]
Arteries and veins of the orbit.

The ophthalmic veins are the two vessels that drain the venous blood from the structures of the orbit into the cavernous sinus. Namely, they are the superior ophthalmic vein and the inferior ophthalmic vein, with the former being much larger than the latter.

The anatomy of the ophthalmic veins is significant as these veins connect the anterior facial vein with the cavernous sinus. Given that the cavernous sinus also communicates with the veins of the base of the brain, this chain opens a pathway for the spreading of facial infections which can be fatal if not treated.

Key facts about the ophthalmic veins
Superior ophthalmic vein Source: Union of branches of facial and supraorbital veins
Tributaries: Anterior and posterior ciliary veins, anterior and posterior ethmoidal veins, superior vorticose veins, central retinal vein, lacrimal vein, nasofrontal vein, episcleral veins
Drains to: Cavernous sinus
Inferior ophthalmic vein Source: Venous plexus of the floor of orbit
Tributaries: Inferior vorticose veins, veins from inferior rectus and inferior oblique muscles
Drains to: Cavernous sinus
Drainage area Eye, orbit, periorbital region of the face

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the ophthalmic veins.

  1. Superior ophthalmic vein
  2. Inferior ophthalmic vein
  3. Sources
+ Show all

Superior ophthalmic vein

The superior ophthalmic vein originates around the superomedial orbital rim just posterior to the trochlea. It arises from the union of the two small branches of the facial and supraorbital veins. The former enters the orbit via supraorbital notch, while the latter passes through the orbital septum.

The superior ophthalmic vein takes a posterior course between the superior rectus muscle and the optic nerve (CN II), traveling close to the ophthalmic artery. It traverses the retro-orbital fat and leaves the orbit through the upper part of the superior orbital fissure, just above the lateral rectus muscle. Ultimately, the superior ophthalmic vein opens into the cavernous sinus.

On its way through the orbit, the superior ophthalmic vein receives the following tributaries:

  • Anterior and posterior ciliary veins
  • The two superior two vorticose veins (vortex veins) from the upper half of the eye
  • Episcleral veins from the eyelids and conjunctiva
  • The central retinal vein
  • The lacrimal vein
  • The nasofrontal vein
  • Anterior and posterior ethmoidal veins

Inferior ophthalmic vein

The inferior ophthalmic vein originates from the posterior end of an inferior ophthalmic venous plexus located on the anterior part of the floor of the orbit. The vein runs posteriorly, passing under the eyeball and over the surface of the inferior rectus muscle.

The inferior ophthalmic vein courses through the superior orbital fissure, just below the common tendinous ring (annulus of Zinn). It either drains directly into the cavernous sinus, or into the superior ophthalmic vein.

The inferior ophthalmic vein receives the following tributaries within the orbit:

  • Muscular branches from the inferior rectus and inferior oblique muscles
  • The two inferior vorticose veins from the lower half of the eyeball
  • A communicating branch with the pterygoid venous plexus via the inferior orbital fissure

Learn everything about the blood vessels of the orbit with our articles, video tutorials, quizzes and labeled illustrations.

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