The superior vena cava (SVC) is a short, wide vein that moves blood from the head, neck, arms, and torso to the heart. It sits near the lymph nodes in the chest. Superior vena cava syndrome causes compression of the SVC and can eventually block blood flow to the heart. In most cases, this compression is gradual, but some illnesses lead to more rapid SVC compression. Doctors diagnose around 15,000 people with the condition each year. SVC syndrome is a medical emergency because it can be life-threatening. However, most people respond well to treatment.
The cardiovascular system depends on the SVC because it supplies blood to the heart. The thin-walled vein has no valves and is surrounded by rigid structures. As such, blood flowing through the vein creates very little pressure, making the vein more susceptible to compression or blockage. Both issues can lead to SVC syndrome. The condition can also lead to breathing issues due to swelling in the neck and upper body.
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