Rotational Vertebral Artery Occlusion: A mechanism of vertebrobasilar insufficiency

Todd A. Kuether, Gary M. Nesbit, Wayne M. Clark, Stanley L. Barnwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Symptomatic dynamic changes in blood flow secondary to vertebral artery compression with rotational head motion are evaluated in a series of patients as a cause for posterior circulation transient ischemic attacks. These cases are classic examples of rotational vertebral artery occlusion and allow for the discussion of the anatomic basis, angiographic features, and treatment options. ILLUSTRATIVE CASES: In our series, symptoms of vertebrobasilar insufficiency were reproducible with rotational head movement. Compression of the vertebral artery was demonstrated angiographically. The correct site of occlusion of the vertebral artery was apparent only by dynamic angiography with progressive head rotation. All of the patients presented in the illustrative cases had occlusion at the C2 level; however, one patient had been previously misdiagnosed and another had an additional site of occlusion. The anatomic course of the vertebral artery is described in addition to the sites of rotational occlusion. CONCLUSION: Rotational vertebral occlusion is an important cause of vertebrobasilar symptoms, which may lead to permanent neurological deficit if left undiagnosed. Dynamic angiography is the established method of diagnosis. Great care must be taken to avoid misdiagnosing the site of occlusion or missing a second occlusive site. For this reason, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of the anatomic course of the vertebral artery and the muscular and tendinous insertions, which may cause rotational occlusion. The decision for treatment must be based on the site of occlusion as well as the assessment of the patient as a surgical candidate. A review of the literature reveals that surgical treatment is effective and must be considered to avoid further morbidity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-433
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 1997


  • Cerebral angiography
  • Vertebral artery
  • Vertebrobasilar insufficiency
  • Vertigo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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