Extracranial vertebral artery dissection in children: natural history and management

Neuroradiology. 2015 Jul;57(7):729-38. doi: 10.1007/s00234-015-1520-x. Epub 2015 Apr 7.


Introduction: The objective of this study is to describe clinical and imaging presentation and outcome in extracranial vertebral artery dissection.

Methods: Single-centre retrospective study over a 14-year period included 20 consecutive patients under the age of 16 years with extracranial vertebral artery dissection. The diagnosis was based on vascular imaging performed at the acute phase and clinical symptoms.

Results: A male predominance was observed (sex ratio 9/1). The first symptoms consisted of headache (45%), neck pain (15%), nausea (30%) and vertigo (30%). Clinical signs leading to admission to hospital were hemiparesis (60%), visual disorders with oculomotor disorders (20%) or visual field defects (20%) and cerebellar syndrome (35%). Eight patients (40%) reported repeated transient episodes of neurological deficits, prior to the diagnosis. The segment most commonly affected was V2-V3 (50%), followed by V3 (15%) and V2 (15%), V3-V4 (10%) and proximal V4 (10%). All patients but one presented cerebral infarction. Eleven patients received first-line treatment with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH), and nine patients received aspirin. Three patients experienced a recurrence of symptoms, one under vitamin K antagonist (VKA) and 2 under aspirin. All three were switched to LMWH with success. Fifty-eight percent of the dissected arteries were occluded at long-term follow-up, although 73% of them were patent at the acute phase.

Conclusion: Initial imaging must include posterior fossa vessels and the craniocervical region with V2-V3 segments. Conventional angiography may be indicated in the absence of a definitive diagnosis on noninvasive imaging. Healing of the dissected vertebral artery predominantly resulted in occlusion, which does not constitute a pejorative factor but indicates good quality healing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use
  • Cerebral Angiography
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Heparin, Low-Molecular-Weight / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Male
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection / complications
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection / diagnosis*
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection / therapy*
  • Vitamin K / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Vitamin K / therapeutic use


  • Anticoagulants
  • Heparin, Low-Molecular-Weight
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors
  • Vitamin K
  • Aspirin