Background: Cervical artery dissections (CAD) are among the most common causes of stroke in young and middle-aged adults. In contrast to carotid dissections (CD) and anterior circulation ischemia, the clinical manifestations of vertebral dissections (VD) and posterior circulation ischemia are often nonspecific (e.g. dizziness and ataxia), and thus a high index of suspicion is necessary for diagnosis. Therefore, the reported incidence of VD in the medical literature is likely to be an underestimation.
Methods: With IRB approval, we conducted a retrospective chart review study using the Neurology Database of Houston Methodist Neurological Institute to identify all patients diagnosed with CAD between August 2011 and March 2015. All patients presented with cerebral ischemia (TIA or stroke). The diagnosis of CAD was made by a stroke neurologist and was based on clinical presentation and appropriate vascular imaging studies. Patients with incidental CAD and those with questionable diagnosis of CAD clinically and radiographically were excluded. Over the studied period (32 months), a total of 677 TIA patients and 3230 stroke patients were admitted to our tertiary-care hospital.
Results: Of 52 patients with CAD-related TIA or ischemic stroke, there were 34 patients (65.4%) with VD and 18 patients (34.6%) with CD. The average age of presentation is 47 years (range: 18 to 75 years) for VD patients and 51 years (range: 34 to 78 years) for CD patients. CAD was slightly more common in males, with 18 VD patients (52.9%) and 10 CD patients (55.5%) in our studied population were males. Out of 30 patients with VD who underwent both noninvasive vascular imaging (MRA or CTA) and cerebral angiogram, dissection was detected on noninvasive imaging in 10 patients (33.3%). On the other hand, out of 13 patients with CD who had both types of imaging modalities, dissection was detected on noninvasive testing in 8 patients (61.5%).
Conclusions: VD was detected approximately twice as frequently as CD in our study. Both conditions are slightly more common in men with an average age of presentation is about 50 years. In addition, our data suggest that noninvasive testing is more likely to diagnose carotid dissection (in two-third of cases) than vertebral dissection (in one-third of cases).