Thoracic outlet syndrome refers to a group of disorders in the thoracic outlet cavity, located between the shoulder and neck. This cavity is home to veins, arteries, and nerve fibers from the spinal cord. Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) occurs when there is compression or injury within the thoracic outlet. Generally, the vast majority of TOS disorders are the neurogenic condition, which occurs when a bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus is compressed. When veins or arteries are compressed, however, a condition called vascular thoracic outlet syndrome is created, a condition which is less-common, but no less serious, than neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome.
The Thoracic Outlet Surgery Center of Excellence is home to world-renowned thoracic surgeons and specialists. Our physicians are experts in dealing with the various disorders that characterize thoracic outlet syndrome. If you feel as if you are suffering from any of these disorders, please contact us today at 888.336.0998.Contact Us Now!
Forms of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Similar to how “thoracic outlet syndrome” is a catch-all term for a variety of thoracic conditions, “vascular thoracic outlet syndrome” can be further broken down into two specific disorders, venous and arterial thoracic outlet syndrome. Learn how vascular thoracic outlet syndrome is tested and diagnosed on our testing and diagnosis page
Venous thoracic outlet syndrome
Venous thoracic outlet syndrome affects approximately 4% of patients with TOS. Unlike other forms of thoracic outlet syndrome, which are typically more common in women, venous TOS is mostly found in young men. The condition is caused by damage or compression of veins found in the thoracic outlet, and its symptoms include swelling in the hands and fingers, numbness of the arms, and general weakness of the arms and shoulders. Venous TOS can develop suddenly, generally after exercise of the arms.
Arterial thoracic outlet syndrome
Though arterial TOS is the least common form of thoracic outlet syndrome, it is the most serious condition if left untreated. Estimated to affect 1% of TOS patients, arterial TOS occurs when the subclavian artery is compressed. Usually, this specific compression is due to congenital features, particularly a cervical (extra) rib. Arterial TOS affects both men and women equally, and is characterized by conditions more serious than those present with venous thoracic outlet syndrome. If left untreated, arterial TOS can lead to aneurysm, gangrene, and even muscle atrophy.
Symptoms of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Unlike other forms of thoracic outlet syndrome, vascular TOS is caused when the veins and arteries in the thoracic cavity are compressed or injured, particularly ones located beneath the clavicle. Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome accounts for only 4% of all TOS cases, but can develop suddenly and without warning. Symptoms of vascular thoracic outlet syndrome can include the following:
- Swelling of the arms, hands, and fingers
- A feeling of weakness in the neck and shoulder area
- Depending on whether the artery is compressed (arterial thoracic outlet syndrome) or if the vein is compressed (venous thoracic outlet syndrome), veins in the chest wall could appear to be swollen
To learn about how surgeon diagnose vascular thoracic outlet syndrome, please visit our testing and diagnosis page.
Treatments for Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Based on the specific form of TOS a patient have, doctors can choose a variety of treatments methods when dealing with the condition. If a patient’s case of TOS isn’t particularly serious, a thoracic specialist may choose to have the patient undergo physical therapy. During physical therapy, patients will work to extend the range of motion in the neck and shoulders. Proper completion of physical therapy can result in reduced TOS symptoms.
If symptoms persist, a patient may require surgery. Thoracic surgeons will perform a minimally invasive (VATS) first rib resection, a procedure designed to alleviate the pressure found in the thoracic outlet. During VATS, surgeons use a small camera for identification and navigation purposes. This camera transmits a live video feed directly to monitors in the operating room, ensuring that surgeons receive the best and most accurate information possible at all times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does vascular thoracic outlet syndrome affect people of every age?
A: For the most part, vascular thoracic outlet syndrome affects both the young and old, though the condition is rarely found in patients below the age of 20. After this age, vascular TOS is common in people of all ages.
Q: Are there preventative measure I can take to reduce the risk of developing this condition?
A: Losing weight, maintaining good posture, and frequent shoulder exercises are good ways to reduce the risk of developing vascular thoracic outlet syndrome. However, patients with a congenital issue (such as an extra rib) may need to consult a thoracic specialist to completely eliminate the condition.
Consult a Thoracic Specialist Today
No matter which form of vascular thoracic outlet syndrome a patient has, it’s important that he or she consult with a thoracic surgeon as soon as possible before any serious complications can occur. If you suffer from vascular TOS, please contact the Thoracic Outlet Surgery Center of Excellence excellent thoracic surgeons today by calling 888.336.0998.
Next, read about Arterial Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.