The superior vena cava is the major or biggest vein in the upper body region. Its main purpose is to carry the blood from the head, chest, neck, and arms toward the heart. A superior vena cava syndrome or SVC syndrome is a collection of symptoms that show up when this vein is blocked or squeezed due to any reason.

Who Is At Risk To Have Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

Signs of vena cava syndrome are most prone in people who are cancer patients. Amongst them, the probability of lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s patients is high.

Although not common, SVC syndrome can be due to other issues such as a blood infection or a clot because of an implantable device: catheter, dialysis catheter, or pacemaker.

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome – Causes

Cancers that metastasize to the mediastinum (space in between the chest, lungs, breastbone, and spine) can also cause SVCS. Types of cancers that have the ability to spread to the mediastinum include:

  • leukemia
  • germ cell tumors
  • thyroid cancer
  • esophageal cancer
  • mesothelioma
  • melanoma
  • breast cancer
  • Kaposi sarcoma

Superior vein cancer symptoms may develop gradually or even suddenly. This depends on the action of superior vena cava squeezing or blockage. Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Breathing issues, more so while bending or lying down.
  • Flushed feels or fullness in the head or ears.
  • Swelling of face, upper body including neck and arms.
  • Coughing
  • Voice hoarseness
  • Pain in the chest
  • Swallowing troubles
  • Blood spitting
  • Change of lip color to blue along with skin – a condition known as cyanosis.
  • Horner’s syndrome symptoms include small pupils, droopy eyelids, and sweat absence on one side of the face.
  • Paralysis of vocal cords.
  • Headache
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Report these symptoms to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

SVC syndrome treatment

Treatment type for SVC syndrome is dependent on the block cause, symptom severity, and the patient’s health and preferences.

If cancer is not the reason for vena cava syndrome, a blood clot is linked to an implanted medical device. For this, doctors will resort to medicines for dissolving the clot; they may or may not take the device out.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation may be given if the blockage of the superior vena cava is because of a tumor not responding or is slow to show the effect of chemotherapy. It is powerful enough to shrink tumors and ease symptoms.


This is the best option for chemo-sensitive tumors, including lymphoma or small cell lung cancer. Cancer is not affected by SVCS treatment; however, cancer medication helps clear up the SVCS.

Clot Breakdown – Thrombolysis

SVC syndrome may result from a blood clot or thrombus forming in a semi-blocked vein. People who suffer from blood clots may require thrombolytics to dissolve or remove the blood clot.

Stent Insertion

A stent can open up a blocked vein to quickly ease SVCS symptoms. Stents are small metal or plastic tubes put into the blocked area of the vein to let blood pass through. Along with a stent, some might require a blood-thinning agent (an anticoagulant) to prevent blood clots from forming again.

Medicines for Symptomatic Treatment.

Sometimes other medicines can ease symptoms while the tests are being done to look for SVCS causes. Steroids reduce swelling and inflammation, while water pills – antidiuretic medicines can help pass more urine.

Final Words

There are no proven tactics to prevent SVCS. However, if any symptoms arise, immediately talk to your healthcare provider. Or you can also contact one from Epic Heart and Vascular Center by dialing Houston: (832) 432-1951 Willowbrook: (832) 952-1951