If you have a swollen neck, face and arms, this can mean a life-threatening condition that could result in brain death.
The expert source for this article about the cause of a swollen neck, face plus arms is John A. Elefteriades, MD, William W.L. Glenn Professor of Surgery, and Director, Aortic Institute at Yale-New Haven, New Haven, CT.
“A swollen neck and arms is serious and should lead to immediate attention,” says Dr. Elefteriades.
“This symptom complex may well mean that the ‘superior vena cava,’ or SVC, the great vein that drains the upper body, is narrowed or occluded.”
Occluded means blocked.
“If you do not seek immediate attention,” continues Dr. Elefteriades, “your brain may swell, leading to brain death.
“Such narrowing can be caused by tumors compressing the SVC, by blood clots in that area, or, rarely, by an aortic aneurysm compressing the vena cava.”
This situation is termed SVC syndrome.
The most common cause is cancer. Other causes besides blood clots from surgery, and (rarely) the aortic aneurysm, include syphilis and tuberculosis.
The swelling of the neck, face and arms develops gradually; it is not sudden or overnight. Shortness of breath may also be present.
Additional symptoms of SVC syndrome are a blue tinge to the skin, cough and chest pain.
Treatment of the swollen face, neck and arms depends upon the underlying cause that’s disrupting the function of the superior vena cava.
Formerly the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale University and Yale New-Haven Hospital, Dr. Elefteriades is working on identifying the genetic mutations responsible for thoracic aortic aneurysms. He is the author of over 400 scientific publications on a wide range of cardiac and thoracic topics.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.