Superior Vena Cava Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis

What Is Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

The Superior Vena Cava belongs to the class of veins, which are significantly important for the body. This vein transports blood from the arms, chest, neck, and head to the heart. Superior Vena Cava Syndrome is a pathological condition in which the superior vena cava gets obstructed or impinged. The primary reason behind this compression or impingement is believed to be malignant tumors, especially of the lungs. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is believed to be yet another cause for Superior Vena Cava Syndrome, although other forms of cancer can also cause a Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

In some cases, certain non-malignant causes have also been seen pertaining to the development of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome. This is a potentially serious condition in adults, but when it occurs in children it is virtually life threatening.

What Is Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

The primary presenting features of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome is problems with breathing along with coughing, swelling of the face, neck and the upper extremity. Chest pain, hoarseness of voice and dysphagia are some rare symptoms that can be seen with Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

Lung cancer is the primary cause for this condition and the extent of the cancer defines the long term prognosis of an individual with Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

What Causes Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

As stated, malignant conditions, specifically lung cancer or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the primary cause of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome. The compression or blockage of the superior vena cava occurs when the tumor progresses and starts pressing on the vein causing it to get compressed and impinged. If the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes then that may also result in compression or blockage of superior vena cava causing Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

Another cause for the development of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome is a blood clot in the vein. These blood clots are formed as a result of catheter being inserted in the vein to remove or add fluids. A pacemaker wire may also cause a clot in the super vena cava vein resulting in the development of a blood clot, which compresses or blocks the vein ultimately leading to development of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

What Are The Symptoms Of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

The symptoms of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome tend to develop over a period of time as the condition progresses and the extent of the blockage increases. The symptoms may be mild to begin with, and if ignored, might start to worsen as the time passes and ultimately may lead to a medical emergency which will require immediate medical attention. Some of the symptoms of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome are:

  • Persistent coughing.
  • Swelling of the arms, neck, and face.
  • Problems with breathing at rest or with activity.

Some of the rare symptoms of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome are:

  • Persistent hoarseness of voice
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Chest pain
  • Dysphagia
  • Hemoptysis
  • Cyanosis
  • Vocal cord paralysis

In cases of children being affected by Superior Vena Cava Syndrome, then the symptoms are roughly the same, but are more severe as the airways of children are much sifter than adults. Thus, it is highly recommended to consult with a physician in case a child exhibits symptoms classic for Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

How Is Superior Vena Cava Syndrome Treated?

The treatment for Superior Vena Cava Syndrome depends on the severity of the symptoms, the condition of the airways, and the primary cause of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome. The physician will also analyze blood flow through other veins in the chest to check whether the blood flow through those veins is normal.

Since in majority of the cases, the primary cause for Superior Vena Cava Syndrome is cancer, thus treatment of the tumor with chemotherapy and radiation is done to reduce the size of the tumor and reduce the compression on the superior vena cava vein.

Diuretics or corticosteroids are yet another form of treatment that can be given to individuals with Superior Vena Cava Syndrome. These medications help with the swelling and remove extra fluid from the body and thus treat Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

In case if Superior Vena Cava Syndrome is caused as a result of a blood clot, then a procedure called thrombolysis may be done in which the clot is broken into pieces within the vein and then a stent is inserted to widen the vein and allow smooth flow of the blood from the vein. A bypass surgery is also an option for the treatment of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

What Is The Prognosis Of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome, as a condition, is definitely treatable, but the cause behind the development of this condition is basically what defines the prognosis of the affected individual. In cases where the cause of the condition is cancer or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, then the overall prognosis for the patient is guarded and depends on the extent of the cancer and the treatments given to the patient.

In cases where a clot is responsible for Superior Vena Cava Syndrome, then the prognosis is quite good for complete relief of symptoms once the clot is dissolved and the patient can be deemed as treated from Superior Vena Cava Syndrome.

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