Objective: The goal was to assess the capability of magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) and computed tomographic angiography (CTA) to replace catheter angiography in the evaluation of unruptured intracranial aneurysms.
Methods: A prospective evaluation of a 1-year period included all patients suspected of harboring unruptured intracranial aneurysms at a single institution. All patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging, MRA, and CTA, for comparison with intraoperative findings or results from catheter angiography. Both MRA and CTA now provide submillimeter resolution of vascular structures, with accurate detection of intracranial aneurysms of a diameter greater than or equal to 3 mm. This resolution calls into question the universal need for catheter angiography in the care of patients with suspected intracranial aneurysms. When the catheter angiography can be avoided, radiological costs can be reduced by as much as two-thirds while eliminating the risk of arterial injury and stroke.
Results: Excellent visualization of the intracranial vasculature was provided by both MRA and CTA. No vascular lesion was detected at surgery or by formal angiography that was not visualized by noninvasive angiographic techniques. The three-dimensional anatomy of the aneurysm complex (unavailable with catheter angiography) was well depicted by both MRA and CTA. CTA was unique in its capacity to display the relationship of vascular structures to bone, information that is invaluable for planning operative strategies for lesions such as carotidophthalmic artery aneurysms. Additionally, acquisition of CTA images was very rapid, with a scanning time of less than 1 minute. Both MRA and CTA allowed for retrospective manipulation of data into an infinite number of views, including views that paralleled those encountered through the operative microscope. Additionally, both MRA and CTA can depict the internal anatomy of aneurysms, an ability not possessed by intra-arterial angiography. This ability alerts the surgeon to possible intraoperative risks, such as plaque in the lumen of an aneurysm or calcium within the walls of the arteries.
Conclusion: Both MRA and CTA provide several advantages over digital subtraction angiography, in addition to reduced costs and avoidance of arterial injury and stroke. These include retrospective manipulation of data in a 360-degree format, visualization of the internal anatomy of arteries and aneurysms, three-dimensional depiction of anatomy, and rapid data acquisition. Preliminary data and a review of the literature suggest that MRA, when used in concert with CTA, can replace catheter angiography in the assessment of select patients harboring unruptured intracranial aneurysms. Although no firm conclusions or generalizations can be drawn from this small cohort of patients, it is hoped that this report will stimulate interest and further study at other institutions.