Medicine (MD/DO)
Lung Cancer
Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

Master Superior Vena Cava Syndrome with Picmonic for Medicine

With Picmonic, facts become pictures. We've taken what the science shows - image mnemonics work - but we've boosted the effectiveness by building and associating memorable characters, interesting audio stories, and built-in quizzing.

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

Recommended Picmonics

picmonic thumbnail
Adenocarcinoma of the Lung
picmonic thumbnail
Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Lung
picmonic thumbnail
Small Cell (Oat Cell) Carcinoma
picmonic thumbnail
Large Cell Carcinoma
picmonic thumbnail
Bronchial Carcinoid Tumor

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

Super Vine Cave
Superior vena cava syndrome is a collection of symptoms resulting from an obstructed superior vena cava. It can result from extraluminal comopression by tumors or intraluminal obstruction by thrombosis. It may present with upper extremity and facial edema as well as venous engorgement of the upper extremity, face, and chest. Increased intracranial pressure is a severe finding. The diagnosis is clinical and management is based on treating the underlying etiology.
Obstruction of Superior Vena Cava
Obstruction-by-rocks Super Vine Cave

The superior vena cava transports blood from the head, neck, upper extremities, and upper chest to the right atrium. Obstruction in this large vessel can result in several symptoms and may constitute a medical emergency. It should be treated immediately if airway obstruction or cerebral edema are present.


SVC syndrome most commonly occurs because of compression due to a mediastinal mass. Malignancies are frequently found (60-70%) but benign tumors have also been reported, too.


Thrombus formation in the superior vena cava can result in blockage of blood flow that can lead to superior vena cava syndrome. This etiology is mostly associated with the usage of indwelling intravascular devices including catheters, pacemakers, and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs). Other factors may also contribute to thromboses such as inflammation and hypercoagulability.

Upper Extremity and Facial Edema
Upper Extremity and Face Edamame

The superior vena cava is connected to the left and right brachiocephalic veins which collect blood from the head, neck, and upper extremities. By obstructing the superior vena cava, blood can build up back to the head causing edema of the face (facial plethora) and edema of upper extremities. Jugular venous distention (JVD) can also occur because of the connection between jugular veins and brachiocephalic veins.

Venous Engorgement over Upper Extremity, Face, and Chest
Vines Engorged Over Upper Extremities, Face and Chest

A large buildup of blood in the superior vena cava can result in massive engorgement of the veins of the upper extremity, face, and chest. These may show visible dilation and tortuosity in the skin.

Increased Intracranial Pressure
Up-arrow Pressure-cooker Cranium

Excess collection of blood in the head can increase intracranial pressure (ICP) which can increase the risk of aneurysms and their rupture. This can also lead to venous stroke. This condition is rare, but headache, cerebral edema and papilledema should be considered a medical emergency.

Treat Underlying Disorders
Treating the Underlying Disorders

Based on clinical diagnosis, management should begin by elevating the patient's head to reduce the amount of congestion at the top of the body. Further management is to treat the underlying disorder of SVC syndrome. If it is caused by a thrombus due to an indwelling intravascular device, removal should be the choice. Anticoagulation therapy and catheter-directed thrombolysis should be considered during the removal. If it is due to a malignancy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy should be given as indicated. Endovascular stenting is widely considered to be useful.


Take the Superior Vena Cava Syndrome Quiz

Picmonic's rapid review multiple-choice quiz allows you to assess your knowledge.

It's worth every penny

Our Story Mnemonics Increase Mastery and Retention

Memorize facts with phonetic mnemonics

Unforgettable characters with concise but impactful videos (2-4 min each)

Memorize facts with phonetic mnemonics

Ace Your Medicine (MD/DO) Classes & Exams with Picmonic:

Over 1,890,000 students use Picmonic’s picture mnemonics to improve knowledge, retention, and exam performance.

Choose the #1 Medicine (MD/DO) student study app.

Picmonic for Medicine (MD/DO) covers information that is relevant to your entire Medicine (MD/DO) education. Whether you’re studying for your classes or getting ready to conquer the USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK, COMLEX Level 1, or COMLEX Level 2, we’re here to help.

Works better than traditional Medicine (MD/DO) flashcards.

Research shows that students who use Picmonic see a 331% improvement in memory retention and a 50% improvement in test scores.