Superior vena cava syndrome in a child is a medical emergency because the child's windpipe can become blocked. The syndrome can be life-threatening. In children, windpipe is softer and can more easily be squeezed shut.
Also, the diameter of a child's windpipe is smaller, so any amount of swelling can cause breathing problems. Squeezing of the trachea is called superior mediastinal syndrome (SMS). These two disorders often occur together in children, but aren’t the same.
The most common symptoms of SVCS in children are coughing, hoarseness, problems breathing and chest pain. The less common symptoms of superior vena cava syndrome include fainting, anxiety, confusion, tiredness, headache, vision problems and a sense of fullness in the ears.
It is important that treatment begins right away. The following treatments may be used for SVCS in children:
Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy is usually used to treat a tumor that is causing the blocked vein. After radiation therapy, breathing may become more difficult because swelling narrows the windpipe. A drug to reduce swelling may be given.
Drugs – Anticancer drugs, steroids, and/or other drugs may be used. If the tumor does not respond, it may be benign (not cancer).
Surgery – This may include surgery to bypass (go around) the blocked part of the vein or to place a stent to open the vein.
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