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Surgery. 1990 Jul;108(1):1-9.

Subclavian vein thrombosis: a continuing challenge.

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Department of Surgery, Community Hospital of Roanoke Valley, Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Va.


Subclavian vein thrombosis is a relatively uncommon but potentially morbid disease entity. To determine the frequency, cause, and best mode of treatment of this problem, we performed a chart review of all patients with a diagnosis of subclavian vein thrombosis at two major metropolitan hospitals during a 6-year period. A total of 40 patients were identified with subclavian vein thrombosis, which represented 3.5% of all venous thromboses detected during the 6-year period. No side or sex predilection was noted and the majority of patients were outpatients. The cause was fairly evenly divided among intravenous catheters (32%), anatomic abnormalities (45%), and carcinoma with postoperative radiation (22.5%). Despite the increasing use of the subclavian veins for pacemaker leads, hyperalimentation, and permanent intravenous access for chemotherapy, there has not been an increase in diagnosed subclavian vein thrombosis. Anatomic abnormalities with compression of the vein respond well to either heparinization or lytic therapy but require surgery if the venous abnormality persists. Treatment consisted of lytic therapy in 20%, heparinization in 55%, and elevation with removal of the central line in 25% of patients. All patients responded well to treatment, with a decrease in swelling and symptoms; no patient progressed to venous gangrene and only one (2.5%) had a documented pulmonary embolus. Medical treatment provides excellent long-term benefit in most cases unless complicated by an anatomic abnormality.

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