SVC Syndrome

What is Superior Vena Cava Syndrome (SVC)?

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome (SVC) is characterized by obstruction of the blood flow in the superior vena cava. Signs and symptoms include swelling and cyanosis of the face, neck, and upper arms, cough, orthopnea, and headache.

It is a major vein in the upper body that carries blood from the head, neck, upper chest, and arms to the heart. It (SVCS) happens when the superior vena cava is partially blocked or compressed. Cancer is the main cause of SVCS. 

How bad is my Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

Mild: Asymptomatic; incidental finding of SVC thrombosis

Moderate: Symptomatic; medical intervention indicated (e.g., anticoagulation, radiation, or chemotherapy)

Severe: Severe symptoms; multi-modality intervention indicated (e.g., anticoagulation, chemotherapy, radiation, stenting)

How to manage mild Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?
  • Raise the head when lie down
  • Corticosteroids which lower swelling and inflammation.
  • Diuretics, which help to get rid of extra body fluid
  • Treatment to break up a blood clot
  • Getting a small tube (stent) put in the blocked vein to let blood through.
How to manage moderate and severe symptoms?

Call your health care team immediately if you have,

  • Swelling of your face, neck, upper body, and arms
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Serious breathing Problem
What are the causes?

SVCS is common if you have lung cancernon-Hodgkin lymphoma, or cancer that spreads to the chest. Cancer can cause SVCS in several ways:

  • A tumor in the chest can press on the superior vena cava.
  • A tumor can grow into the superior vena cava and block it.
  • Cancer can spread to the lymph nodes around the superior vena cava. The lymph nodes can get larger and press on or block the vein.
  • Cancer can cause a blood clot in the vein. A pacemaker wire or a catheter in the vein could cause a clot.

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