Navigate Up

Orthopaedics Center - A-Z Index

#
I
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders

Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are conditions in which blood supply to the back of the brain is disrupted.

Alternative Names

Vertebrobasilar insufficiency; Posterior circulation ischemia

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Three main blood vessels provide blood flow to the back of the brain:

  • One basilar artery
  • Two vertebral arteries

This part of the brain contains structures that are crucial for keeping a person alive, such as breathing, heart rate, swallowing, vision, movement, and posture or balance. 

Many different conditions may cause blood flow in the back part of the brain to be reduced or stopped. The most common are smoking, highblood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. These are similar to the risk factors for any stroke .

Vertebrobasilar vascular disorders may also be caused by a tear (dissection) in an artery wall.

Other less common causes of vertebrobasilar vascular disorders include connective tissue diseases and vasculitis.

Symptoms

Most common symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty saying words
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Double vision or vision loss
  • Numbness or tingling most often on the face or scalp
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden falls (drop attacks)
  • Vertigo (sensation of things spinning around)
  • Memory loss

Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Bladder or bowel control problems
  • Difficulty walking (unsteady gait)
  • Headache
  • Hearing loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neck ache
  • Pain in one or more parts of the body, which gets worse with touch and cold temperatures
  • Poor coordination
  • Sleepiness or even apparent sleep from which the person cannot be awakened
  • Sudden, uncoordinated movements
  • Sweating on the face, arms, or legs

Signs and tests

Tests depend on the possible underlying cause, but may include:

Treatment

Sudden onset of vertebrobasilar symptoms is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Treatment is similar to that for stroke .

Treatment and prevention may include:

  • Blood-thinning medications to lower your risk of stroke, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • Diet changes and medication to lower cholesterol and control blood pressure
  • Exercise
  • Losing weight
  • Stopping smoking

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook depends on:

  • The type of stroke
  • The amount of brain damage
  • What body functions have been affected
  • How quickly you get treatment
  • How quickly you recover

Each person has a different recovery time and need forlong-term care. Problems with moving, thinking, and talking often improve in the first weeks or months after a stroke. Some people will keep improving months or years after a stroke.

Complications

Complications of vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are stroke and its complications. The complications of stroke include:

  • Respiratory (breathing) failure (which may require use of a machine to help the patient breathe)
  • Lung problems (especially lung infections)
  • Heart attack
  • Dehydration and swallowing problems (sometimes leading to the placement of tubes in the stomach for artificial feeding)
  • Problems with movement or sensation, including paralysis and numbness
  • Formation of clots in the legs

Patients may have vision loss in one eye.

Complications caused by medications or surgery may also occur.

Calling your health care provider

Call 911 or your local emergency number, or get to the emergency room if you have any symptoms that may suggest a vertebrobasilar circulatory disorder.

References

Furie KL, Kasner SE, Adams RJ, et al. Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in patients with stroke or transient ischemic attack: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011;42:227-276.

Goldstein LB, Bushnell CD, Adams RJ, et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011;42:517-584. 

Adams RJ, Albers G, Alberts MJ, Benavente O, Furie K, Goldstein LB, et al. Update to the AHA/ASA recommendations for the prevention of stroke in patients with stroke and transient ischemic attack. Stroke. 2008 May;39(5):1647-52. Epub 2008 Mar 5.

Biller J, Love BB, Schneck MJ. Vascular Diseases of the Nervous System. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann; 2008:chap 55.

Updated: 8/29/2012

Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com