Vertebral artery dissection in children: a comprehensive review

Pediatr Neurosurg. 2002 Oct;37(4):168-77. doi: 10.1159/000065391.


Vertebral artery dissection (VAD) has been infrequently recognized in children. The authors have reviewed 68 reported cases of VAD in children in the existing literature. An association between routine types of neck movement in sports and the evolution of VAD was recognized in half of the reported cases. Boys outnumbered girls by a ratio of 6.6 to 1, in contrast to adults, for whom the male to female ratio is approximately equal (1.3 to 1). Neck pain, one of the hallmark symptoms of VAD in adults, was infrequently noted in this young population (12%). Most children presented with various combinations of symptoms and signs, including ataxia (53%), headache (38%) and vomiting (34%). Eye signs or symptoms were noted in 72% of patients, and paresis/paralysis of one or more extremity occurred in 54%. Angiography was the method most frequently used to diagnose VAD (63/68; 93%). Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) revealed pathognomonic signs of VAD in only 3 out of 13 patients evaluated (23%). In this series of 68 patients, 48 reports failed to indicate whether or not a cervical X-ray was performed, but in the 20 patients for whom such information was recorded, half had skeletal abnormalities in the occipital/atlas/axis region. The most common treatments were antiplatelet therapy (n = 15) and anticoagulation with (n = 8) or without (n = 7) supplemental antiplatelet therapy. Asymptomatic recovery occurred in 12 of the 15 patients (80%) who received antiplatelet therapy compared with 4 of the 15 patients (27%) who received anticoagulation therapy with or without antiplatelet therapy. There is a very high incidence of associated cervical anomalies in children with VAD. Further studies are required to determine if noninvasive examinations such as magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasonography, computed tomography angiography and MRA could replace angiography as the modality of choice in establishing the diagnosis of VAD in children. The role of different therapies for children presenting with symptoms related to VAD is unclear.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection* / diagnosis
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection* / epidemiology
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection* / metabolism
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection* / therapy


  • Proteoglycans