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Cardiopulmonary Syndromes

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

Superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) is a group of symptoms that occur when the superior vena cava is partly blocked.

The superior vena cava is a major vein that leads to the heart. The heart is divided into four parts. The right and left atrium make up the top parts of the heart and the right and left ventricle make up the bottom parts of the heart. The right atrium of the heart receives blood from two major veins:

Different conditions can slow the flow of blood through the superior vena cava. These include a tumor in the chest, nearby lymph nodes that are swollen (from cancer), or a blood clot in the superior vena cava. The vein may become completely blocked. Sometimes, smaller veins in the area become larger and take over for the superior vena cava if it is blocked, but this takes time. Superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) is the group of symptoms that occur when this vein is partly blocked.

SVCS is usually caused by cancer.

Superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) is usually caused by cancer. In adults, SVCS is most common in the following types of cancer:

Less common causes of SVCS include:

Common symptoms of SVCS include breathing problems and coughing.

The symptoms of SVCS are more severe if the vein becomes blocked quickly. This is because the other veins in the area do not have time to widen and take over the blood flow that cannot pass through the superior vena cava.

The most common symptoms are:

Less common symptoms include the following:

Tests are done to find and diagnose the blockage.

The following tests may be done to diagnose SVCS and find the blockage:

It is important to find out the cause of SVCS before starting treatment. The type of cancer can affect the type of treatment needed. Unless the airway is blocked or the brain is swelling, waiting to start treatment while a diagnosis is made usually causes no problem in adults. If doctors think lung cancer is causing the problem, a sputum sample may be taken and a biopsy may be done.

Treatment for SVCS caused by cancer depends on the cause, symptoms, and prognosis.

Treatment for SCVS caused by cancer depends on the following:

Treatment may include the following:

Palliative care may be given to relieve symptoms in patients with SVCS.

Superior vena cava syndrome is serious and the symptoms can be upsetting for the patient and family. It is important that patients and family members ask questions about superior vena cava syndrome and how to treat it. This can help relieve anxiety about symptoms such as swelling, trouble swallowing, coughing, and hoarseness.

Patients with advanced cancer sometimes decide not to have any serious treatment. Palliative treatment can help keep patients comfortable by relieving symptoms to improve their quality of life.