Imaging and Surgical Findings in Patients With Hemi-Laryngopharyngeal Spasm and the Potential Role of MRI in the Diagnostic Work-Up

AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2018 Dec;39(12):2366-2370. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A5851. Epub 2018 Oct 25.


Background and purpose: Hemi-laryngopharyngeal spasm is a recently discovered condition characterized by episodic coughing and unilateral throat contractions that may lead to severe stridor. These symptoms are caused by a vascular compression of the ipsilateral vagus nerve, typically the PICA. Microvascular decompression of the vagus nerve has been demonstrated to be a potential cure for this neurovascular compression syndrome. The main aim of this study was to clarify the role of MR imaging in the diagnostic work-up of this rare condition.

Materials and methods: We describe the imaging and surgical findings of 3 patients from our prospective case series of patients with hemi-laryngopharyngeal spasm from 2015 to 2017. Second, the imaging data of 100 patients (control cohort) with symptoms unrelated to hemi-laryngopharyngeal spasm were reviewed to investigate the rate and degree of neurovascular conflict of the vagus nerve.

Results: All patients with hemi-laryngopharyngeal spasm reported to date have had vascular compression of the vagus nerve due to the PICA. In the control cohort, there was a good interrater agreement in scoring the "contact" and "compression" of the vagus nerve (κ = 0.73. P = < .001). The frequency of contact or compression of the vagus nerve was approximately 50%. The PICA was the most frequent vessel involved in 74%.

Conclusions: The presence of unilateral neurovascular contact or compression of the vagus nerve does not confirm the diagnosis of hemi-laryngopharyngeal spasm. The MR imaging finding of ipsilateral vascular compression of the vagus nerve is a necessary but not sufficient finding for the diagnosis of hemi-laryngopharyngeal spasm.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypopharynx / diagnostic imaging*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Compression Syndromes / diagnostic imaging
  • Pharyngeal Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Spasm / diagnostic imaging*
  • Vagus Nerve / diagnostic imaging