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Superior Vena Cava Syndrome in Emergency Medicine Medication

  • Author: Michael S Beeson, MD, MBA, FACEP; Chief Editor: Erik D Schraga, MD  more...
Updated: Dec 16, 2014

Medication Summary

Steroids and diuretics have been the mainstays of ED management. However, superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) rarely presents as an acute life-threatening emergency. As such, considering the diagnosis may be more important than the actual definitive care when making therapeutic decisions.



Class Summary

These agents decrease the inflammatory response to tumor invasion and edema surrounding the tumor mass. They have anti-inflammatory properties and cause profound and varied metabolic effects. In addition, these agents modify the body's immune response to diverse stimuli.

Methylprednisolone (Solu-Medrol, Depo-Medrol, Medrol)


One of several steroids that may be given in ED. Decreases inflammation by suppressing migration of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and reversing increased capillary permeability.

Prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone, Sterapred)


Useful in treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune reactions. By reversing increased capillary permeability and suppressing polymorphonuclear neutrophil (PMN) activity, may decrease inflammation.



Class Summary

These agents may decrease venous return to the heart by decreasing preload, relieving the increased pressure in the superior vena cava.

Furosemide (Lasix)


Increases excretion of water by interfering with chloride-binding cotransport system, which, in turn, inhibits sodium and chloride reabsorption in ascending loop of Henle and distal renal tubule.

Dose must be individualized. Depending on response, administer at increments of 20-40 mg, no sooner than 6-8 h after previous dose, until desired diuresis occurs. When treating infants, titrate with 1 mg/kg/dose increments until satisfactory effect achieved.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Michael S Beeson, MD, MBA, FACEP Professor of Emergency Medicine, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Pharmacy; Attending Faculty, Akron General Medical Center

Michael S Beeson, MD, MBA, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, National Association of EMS Physicians, Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ Associate Professor, Senior Researcher, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine; Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Canada

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Erik D Schraga, MD Staff Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mills-Peninsula Emergency Medical Associates

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Richard S Krause, MD Senior Clinical Faculty/Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Buffalo State University of New York School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Richard S Krause, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Patient with a 4-week history of increasing facial edema and known lung cancer.
Chest radiograph of a patient with known superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) and bronchogenic carcinoma (CA).
Chest radiograph of a 50-year-old woman with complaint of shortness of breath and facial swelling. No previous history of cancer but 30 pack-year history.
CT scan of the same 50-year-old woman in Image 3 with an initial presentation of shortness of breath and facial swelling. This shows a large tumor mass in the right mediastinum nearly surrounding the right main stem bronchus and partially occluding the superior vena cava.
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