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October 25, 1995

The Superficial Femoral Vein: A Potentially Lethal Misnomer

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Surgery, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla (Drs Bundens, Bergan, and Halasz); and US Naval Medical Center (Dr Murray) and Center for Health Care (Dr Drehobl), San Diego, Calif.

JAMA. 1995;274(16):1296-1298. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530160048032

Objective.  —To assess the potential for error in interpretation of venous duplex reports that use the term "superficial femoral vein."

Design.  —Three surveys conducted by mail.

Setting.  —Three multispecialty medical groups, anatomy departments of all US medical schools, and vascular laboratories.

Participants.  —A total of 46 family practitioners and general internists, 95 chairpersons of departments of anatomy, and 85 laboratory directors.

Main Outcome Measures.  —Proposed treatment of a patient with leg pain and an acute thrombosis of the superficial femoral vein; what nomenclature(s) for the deep thigh veins is (are) felt to be correct, what are acceptable alternatives, what is taught to students and which is preferred; and what terminology is being used in lower limb venous duplex reports.

Results.  —Only 24% (11/46) of the respondents would have administered anticoagulants to the patient as described. Only 3% (3/95) of anatomists felt the term "superficial femoral vein" was correct, 22% (21/95) felt it was an acceptable alternative (though only 9% [9/95] taught it to medical students), and only 7% (7/95) of anatomists felt the term was preferred for everyday use. The term "superficial femoral vein" is used by 93% (79/85) of vascular laboratories in lower limb venous duplex reports.

Conclusion.  —although the overwhelming majority of vascular laboratories use the term "superficial femoral vein" in venous duplex reports, the use of this term is potentially hazardous to patients. Most primary care physicians have not been taught and are not aware that the superficial femoral vein is a deep vein and that acute thrombosis of this vessel is potentially life threatening.(JAMA. 1995;274:1296-1298)