Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Superior Vena Cava Syndrome Overview

What is superior vena cava syndrome?
A person with superior vena cava syndrome has narrowing of a large vein, called the superior vena cava. Blood from the arms, head, and neck drains through the superior vena cava, as it flows back to the heart. A narrowed superior vena cava causes blood to back up into the arms, head and neck, which results in swelling. The superior vena cava has a very thin wall, which allows the vessel to be easily compressed. Most cases of superior vena cava syndrome are caused by pressure on the vessel by a tumor that is located in the right side of the chest or lung. Superior vena cava syndrome is rare.

What are the symptoms of superior vena cava syndrome?
Symptoms of superior vena cava syndrome include difficulty breathing, swollen neck veins, arm swelling (bilateral), swelling of the upper chest, neck swelling, and facial swelling. Less common symptoms of superior vena cava syndrome include headache, nausea, cough, nasal congestion, faintness, chest pain, vision change, and confusion.

How does the doctor treat superior vena cava syndrome?
The treatment for superior vena cava syndrome depends on the underlying cause. The most common cause of superior vena cava syndrome is a tumor in the right chest or lung. Superior vena cava syndrome may also be caused by a blood clot that obstructs the flow of blood through the vein. Treatment for chest tumors may include radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Treatment for blood clots may include thrombolytic therapy or anticoagulant medications.

Continue to Superior Vena Cava Syndrome Incidence

Last Updated: Sep 28, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Superior Vena Cava Syndrome References
  1. Lequaglie C, Conti B, Brega-Massone PP, Giudice G. The difficult approach to neoplastic superior vena cava syndrome: surgical option. J Cardiovasc Surg (Torino). 2003 Oct;44(5):667-71. [14735057]
  2. Nunnelee JD. Superior vena cava syndrome. J Vasc Nurs. 2007 Mar;25(1):2-5; quiz 6. [17324762]
  3. Urruticoechea A, Mesia R, Dominguez J, Falo C, Escalante E, Montes A, Sancho C, Cardenal F, Majem M, Germa JR. Treatment of malignant superior vena cava syndrome by endovascular stent insertion. Experience on 52 patients with lung cancer. Lung Cancer. 2004 Feb;43(2):209-14. [14739042]
  4. Wudel LJ Jr, Nesbitt JC. Superior vena cava syndrome. Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2001 Feb;2(1):77-91. [12057143]
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