Intra-arterial papaverine for the treatment of cerebral vasospasm following aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage

Surg Neurol. 1999 Jan;51(1):66-74. doi: 10.1016/s0090-3019(97)00370-4.


Background: Intra-arterial papaverine (IAP) has been described as a treatment for cerebral vasospasm refractory to standard therapy.

Methods: We report a series of 15 consecutive patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage in which IAP was employed for the treatment of symptomatic vasospasm. All patients exhibited delayed ischemic neurologic deficits, focal cerebral hypoperfusion on stable xenon-enhanced computerized tomography cerebral blood flow studies, and angiographically defined arterial narrowing. Papaverine was infused into 32 arteries on 23 occasions. Six patients required multiple treatments between 1 and 8 days apart. In five instances, IAP was combined with angioplasty.

Results: Angiographically defined vasospasm was at least partially reversed immediately following treatment on 18 of 23 occasions. The associated clinical improvement was major on 6 occasions, and either minor or none on 17. Post-treatment cerebral blood flow was assessed on 13 occasions and showed improvement in previously ischemic areas on six occasions and no improvement on seven. Complications were encountered on four occasions. Systemic hypotension and transient brain-stem depression were seen with vertebral artery infusions; a generalized seizure and paradoxical aggravation of vasospasm resulting in hemispheric infarction occurred with internal carotid artery infusions.

Conclusions: Intra-arterial papaverine resulted in reversal of arterial narrowing in the majority of cases (78%). However, this angiographic improvement was associated with cerebral blood flow augmentation in only 46% of cases analyzed, and major clinical improvement in 26%.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Flow Velocity / drug effects
  • Cerebral Angiography
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intra-Arterial
  • Intracranial Aneurysm / complications*
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / diagnostic imaging
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / drug therapy*
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / etiology
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Papaverine / administration & dosage*
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / complications*
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasodilator Agents / administration & dosage*


  • Vasodilator Agents
  • Papaverine