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Respiration. 2008;76(1):69-75. Epub 2007 Sep 25.

Clinical and radiological grading of superior vena cava obstruction.

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Division of Pulmonology, Department of Medicine, University of Stellenbosch and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa.



Superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO) is commonly caused by neoplastic venous compression and presents with typical symptoms and signs. Its clinical severity presumably depends on the degree of obstruction and the adequacy of venous collateral formation.


The development of novel clinical and radiological scoring systems based on the postulate that a reproducible relationship exists between the degree of SVCO, the presence of collateral circulation and the extent of clinical symptoms.


We prospectively evaluated consecutive cases of acute and subacute SVCO with a newly developed clinical scoring system, which is based on easily detectable clinical symptoms and signs of SVCO. In parallel, we recorded and scored the degree of SVCO and the extent of collaterals visible on contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT).


Thirty-four cases of SVCO were evaluated: 8 (23.5%) were clinically mild, 16 (47%) moderate and 10 (29.5%) severe. Lung cancer was the underlying histological diagnosis in 94% of cases. Radiologically, 53% had complete SVCO. A well-developed collateral system was found in 14 (41%). A scoring system subtracting a 'collateral score' from an 'obstruction score' showed a significant correlation with the clinical score (r = 0.75, p < 0.01).


Clinical severity of SVCO depends upon the degree of SVCO and is ameliorated by collateral formation. The novel clinical scoring system can predict the underlying CT features in SVCO and may be valuable in the bedside assessment of SVCO severity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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