A lung cancer patient wakes up uncomfortably, their chest feeling a bit tight. Looking in the mirror, they see their face is puffy and swollen. They get up and begin to go about their day. Later, they notice the swelling has gone down. Perhaps it was an odd reaction to a new medication. But the next morning the swelling and tightness return. They go to their doctor and, after some testing, is diagnosed with superior vena cava syndrome.
This syndrome describes a collection of symptoms that occur when blood flow through the superior vena cava is blocked by exterior pressure or interior blockage. Additional symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, and swelling in the arms and hands.
Elevating The Head
In the circulatory system, the superior vena cava channels blood from the head and upper body to the right atrium. Restricted flow in this important blood vessel leads to edema in the head and extremities. Initial treatment for this condition can be as simple as elevating the head. By sitting upright or standing the force of gravity can aid in the draining process.
This is the reason patients with superior vena cava syndrome can be slow to recognize the issue. Especially if the constriction of the blood vessel is in an early stage, if they have been upright most of the day, any swelling may disappear by the evening, leading them to believe it was a temporary issue like an allergic reaction.