Diuretics ("water pills") or steroids may be used to 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.
SVCS 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.
Calling your health care provider
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.
Wilson LD, Detterbeck FC, Yahalom J. Superior vena cava syndrome with malignant causes. N Engl J Med. 2007;356:1862-1869.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.