Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome and Reversible Cerebral Vasoconstriction Syndrome as Syndromes of Cerebrovascular Dysregulation

Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2021 Oct 1;27(5):1301-1320. doi: 10.1212/CON.0000000000001037.


Purpose of review: This article describes the causes, clinical and imaging features, management, and prognosis of posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) and reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS), in which the underlying pathophysiology is related to reversible dysregulation of the cerebral vasculature.

Recent findings: PRES and RCVS are descriptive terms, each bringing together conditions with similar clinical-imaging manifestations. Headache, visual symptoms, seizures, and confusion occur in both syndromes. RCVS is usually heralded by recurrent thunderclap headaches, whereas encephalopathy and seizures are typical in PRES. In PRES, brain imaging shows reversible vasogenic edema that is typically symmetric and located in subcortical regions (mostly posterior predominant). In RCVS, brain imaging is often normal; cerebral angiography shows segmental vasoconstriction-vasodilatation affecting the circle of Willis arteries and their branches. Aside from shared clinical features, significant imaging overlap exists. Both PRES and RCVS can be complicated by ischemic and hemorrhagic brain lesions; angiographic abnormalities frequently occur in PRES and vasogenic edematous lesions in RCVS. Common triggers (eg, eclampsia, vasoconstrictive and chemotherapeutic agents) have been identified. Abnormal cerebrovascular tone and endothelial dysfunction may explain both syndromes. Management of these syndromes includes the removal of identified triggers, symptomatic treatment of headache or seizures, and moderate blood pressure control. Both syndromes are self-limited, with clinical recovery occurring within days to weeks. Long-term deficits and mortality are uncommon.

Summary: PRES and RCVS have been well characterized and acknowledged to have significant overlap. Advances in our understanding of pathophysiology and risk factors for poor outcome are expected to optimize the management of these not uncommon syndromes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Angiography
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders* / complications
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders* / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Headache Disorders, Primary* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome* / diagnostic imaging
  • Pregnancy
  • Vasoconstriction