Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

Superior vena cava syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur when the blood flow through superior vena cava is disrupted. The superior vena cava opens runs towards the right heart atrium, where it connects with the inferior vena cava. Superior vena cava takes blood from the entire upper half of the body, i.e. upper limbs, neck and head.


The most common causes include occlusion of the vein by a blood clot or narrowing of the vein by a locally growing tumor such as lymphoma, lung cancer, or other tumors originating from the tissues of the chest - both benign and malignant.


If the blood can not flow through the superior vena cava, it begins to accumulate in the head, neck and upper limbs. This leads to local edema of the head and neck. The neck veins are enlarged and filled with blood. The condition is uncomfortable and the affected people might experience headaches, fatigue and exhaustion.


When a patient suffers from the above-mentioned symptoms, it is advisable to perform a chest X-ray or chest computed tomography, which could show a chest tumor compressing the superior vena cava.


Due to the fact that the vast majority of cases of superior vena cava syndrome are associated with cancers, the basic therapy should focus of removal of the tumor tissue. Corticosteroids may reduce local swelling and ease the compression of vena cava. Other rather supportive drugs may be diuretics that also increase fluid excretion into urine.


If necessary, the narrowed vein may be reinforced by introducing a special tubular stent. When the syndrome is caused by a local blood clot, it is sometimes possible to use anticoagulants to dissolve it.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources