SVC obstruction is a narrowing or blockage of the superior vena cava, which is the second largest vein in the human body. The superior vena cava moves blood from the upper half of the body to the heart.
Superior vena cava obstruction; Superior vena cava syndrome
Superior vena cava (SVC) obstruction is a relatively rare condition.
It is most often caused by cancer or a tumor in the mediastinum (the area of the chest under the breastbone and between the lungs).
The types of cancer that can lead to this condition include:
Diuretics (water pills) or steroids may be used to temporarily relieve swelling.
Other treatment options may include radiation or chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, or surgery to remove the tumors. Surgery to bypass the obstruction is rarely performed. Placement of a stent to open up the SVC is available at some medical centers.
The outcome varies, depending on the cause and the amount of blockage.
SVC syndrome caused by a tumor is a sign that the tumor has spread, and it indicates a poorer long-term outlook.
The throat could become blocked, which can block the airways.
Increased pressure may develop in the brain, leading to changed levels of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, or vision changes.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of SVC obstruction. Complications are serious and can sometimes be fatal.
Prompt treatment of other medical disorders may reduce the risk of developing SVC obstruction.
Rice TW, Rodriguez MR, Light RW. The superior vena cava syndrome: clinical characteristics and evolving etiology. Medicine (Baltimore). 2006;85;1:37-42. PMID: 16523051 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16523051.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.