Superior Vena Cava Syndrome in Emergency Medicine Differential Diagnoses

Updated: Sep 19, 2016
  • Author: Michael S Beeson, MD, MBA, FACEP; Chief Editor: Erik D Schraga, MD  more...
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Diagnostic Considerations

Important considerations

Consider the diagnosis of superior vena cava syndrome in patients with known lung cancer. Their symptoms of increasing shortness of breath may be from superior vena cava syndrome. Symptoms may be relieved with radiation therapy.

In patients in whom the diagnosis of lung cancer is not known, patients' sensations of arms swelling, facial fullness, and related symptoms may tend to be discounted. An excellent opportunity may exist to positively affect a patient's prognosis if the diagnosis of superior vena cava syndrome is entertained and the underlying cause of cancer is considered.

Another condition to consider in patients with suspected superior vena cava syndrome is airway obstruction.

Special concerns

Special concerns include the need to be sensitive to patients' probable diagnosis of lung cancer. [3] In patients in whom the diagnosis has not been made, this represents a unique occasion for the clinician to approach the patient with care. Special care must be taken to ensure that the explanation of the patient's symptoms is not rushed.

Differential Diagnoses