Superior vena cava syndrome (SVC syndrome) is a constellation of symptoms caused by occlusion of the large vein that drains the head and upper body. The occlusion can be caused by chronic venous disease or external compression from a mass.


Common symptoms include face/neck swelling, distended neck veins, cough, difficulty breathing, difficulty lying flat, upper extremity swelling. Patients can also experience chest pain and headaches.


The causes of SVC syndrome are diagnosed with non-invasive imaging, including ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


When the cause of SVC syndrome is extrinsic compression, treatment is targeted to the offending mass, either through surgery, medication/chemotherapy, or a combination of the two. If there is an intrinsic disease involving the SVC, either from chronic/remote vascular access or prior clot, SVC recanalization can be performed, if needed, followed by balloon dilation and stent.