Craniocervical Artery Dissections: A Concise Review for Clinicians

Zafer Keser, James F. Meschia, Giuseppe Lanzino

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Craniocervical artery dissection (CAD), although uncommon, can affect the young and lead to devastating complications, including stroke and subarachnoid hemorrhage. It starts with a tear in the intima of a vessel with subsequent formation of an intramural hematoma. Most CAD occurs spontaneously or after minor trauma. Patients with CAD may exhibit isolated symptoms of an underlying subclinical connective tissue disorder or have a clinically diagnosed connective tissue disorder. Emergent evaluation and computed tomography angiography or magnetic resonance imaging/angiography of the head and neck are required to screen for and to diagnose CAD. Carotid ultrasound is not recommended as an initial test because of limited anatomic windows; diagnostic catheter-based angiography is reserved for atypical cases or acutely if severe neurologic deficits are present. Patients with CAD can present with focal neurologic deficits due to ischemia (thromboembolism or arterial occlusion) or subarachnoid hemorrhage (pseudoaneurysm formation and rupture). Also common are local symptoms, such as head and neck pain, pulsatile tinnitus, Horner syndrome, and cranial neuropathy, or cervical radiculopathy from mass effect. Acute management of transient ischemic attack/stroke in CAD is not different from the management of ischemic stroke of other causes. Patients with CAD need long-term antithrombotic therapy for secondary stroke prevention. Anticoagulation or dual antiplatelet therapy followed by single antiplatelet therapy is recommended for extracranial CAD and antiplatelet therapy for intracranial CAD. Recurrent ischemic events and dissections are rare and typically occur early. Patients with CAD should avoid deep neck massage or chiropractic neck manipulation involving sudden excessive, forced neck movements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)777-783
Number of pages7
JournalMayo Clinic proceedings
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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