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Superior vena cava

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Anatomy and function of the superior vena cava.
Superior vena cava (Vena cava superior)

The superior vena cava (SVC, also known as the cava or cva) is a short, but large diameter vein located in the anterior right superior mediastinum. Its latin name is related to its large pipe appearance in cadavers, 'cava' meaning 'hollow'.

The superior vena cava is very important for the function of the cardiovascular system, since it largely contributes to the input of blood to the right atrium. Any hypertensive process in the right half of the heart or in the pulmonary circulation retrogradely affects both superior and inferior venae cavae. This is important since the veins are not adjusted to high pressures, which can result with forming an aneurysm or even rupture of the wall of the SVC.

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the superior vena cava.

Key facts about the superior vena cava
Source Brachiocephalic vein, azygos vein
Draining area Upper half of the body (above the diaphragm)
Drains to Right atrium of heart
  1. Anatomy
  2. Function
  3. Clinical notes
    1. Superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO)
    2. Superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS)
    3. Superior vena cava thrombosis
    4. Superior vena cava aneurysm
    5. Persistent left superior vena cava (PLSVC)
  4. Sources
+ Show all


Embryologically, the SVC is formed by the left and right brachiocephalic veins (also known as the innominate veins) that also receive blood from the upper limbs, certain parts of the head, one being the eyes, and neck.

There is no valve that divides the SVC from the right atrium, which conducts blood from right atrial and right ventricular contractions upwards into the internal jugular vein (seen as the jugular venous pressure) and sternocleidomastoid muscle

Positionally, the SVC begins behind the lower border of the 1st right costal cartilage and descends vertically behind the 2nd and 3rd intercostal spaces to drain into the right atrium at the level of the 3rd costal cartilage. Its lower half is covered by a fibrous pericardium, which is pierced by the SVC at the level of the 2nd costal cartilage.

The superior vena cava commonly pops up in exams. Find out how you can prepare effectively with our anatomy quiz questions!


Superior vena cava coursing towards the right atrium of the heart, returning deoxygenated blood from the body.

The SVC is one of the 2 large veins by which blood is returned from the body to the right side of the heart. After circulating through the body systemically, deoxygenated blood returns to the right atrium of the heart through either the SVC, which drains the upper body, or the inferior vena cava (IVC) that drains everything below the diaphragm.

Test your knowledge on the cardiovascular system with this quiz.

Test yourself on the superior vena cava and other neurovasculature of the posterior mediastinum with the quiz below to consolidate what you learned so far!

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