An intricate web of blood vessels supply the brain with oxygen and vital nutrients. A group of arteries known as the vertebrobasilar arteries feeds the back (posterior) of the brain. Vertebrobasilar arteries are responsible for supplying blood, which carries oxygen to brain structures such as the brain stem, occipital lobes, and cerebellum.
These structures are needed for many of the basic functions of everyday life, including consciousness, coordination, and vision. Health problems with blood vessels can affect the function of vertebrobasilar arteries. One example is atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This condition narrows the arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow to vital brain structures.
Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are a group of diseases in which not enough blood is supplied to the back of the brain. Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are also known as:
- vertebrobasilar insufficiency
- posterior circulation ischemia
- vertebral basilar ischemia
Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of these disorders. However, other conditions can cause these disorders, including:
- tear (dissection) in the artery wall
- injury or physical trauma
- diseases of the connective tissue such as scleroderma or lupus
There is no underlying cause for the development of Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders in some instances.
Patients who have underlying health conditions are at greater risk for developing vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders. Risk factors include:
- having diabetes
- having high blood pressure
- being obese
- having high cholesterol
- being over the age of 50
- having a sedentary lifestyle
The symptoms of vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders vary. They are based on the cause of the disease and the portion of the brain affected. Symptoms may last for a few minutes or can become permanent. This depends on how severe the blockage is and how soon blood flow is restored.
The most serious symptoms of the disorder include:
- dizziness (vertigo)
- changes in vision including blurring or double vision
- sudden falls (drop attack)
- slurred speech
- numbness or tingling in the extremities
- sudden uncoordinated movements
These symptoms are similar to those that occur during a stroke. Seek emergency medical care if you develop these symptoms.
Other symptoms that may occur include:
- bladder or bowel control problems
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty walking
- hearing loss
- muscle weakness
- nausea and vomiting
- sweating on the arms, face, or legs
Call your doctor to schedule an appointment if you develop these symptoms.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam if you have symptoms of this condition. He or she will also ask you about your medical history. Your doctor may also order tests to confirm the diagnosis. Tests used to diagnose this condition include:
- CT of the brain (to see if a stroke has already occurred)
- MRI of the brain (to see if a stroke has already occurred)
- ultrasound (to examine the arteries in the brain)
- blood tests (including those to check for clotting ability)
- echocardiogram (to view how your heart is functioning)
- electrocardiogram (to record electrical activity of the heart)
- angiogram (to track blood flow and identify areas of narrowing)
In rare instances, your doctor may also order a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
Your doctor may recommend several different treatments for this condition.
First, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes including:
- quitting smoking
- changing your diet to reduce cholesterol
- controlling blood sugar and blood pressure
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to control your cholesterol or thin your blood.
Your doctor may recommend surgery to increase blood flow to the back of the brain if other methods don’t work. Surgical options include:
- endarterectomy (removal of plaque from the affected artery)
- bypass grafting (placing a new blood vessel around the site of the narrowing)
- angioplasty (insertion of a balloon catheter into the narrow portion of an artery to compress the plaque and reduce the blockage)
- reconstruction of the vertebrobasilar arteries
Your outlook will depend on several factors, such as the underlying condition causing the disorder. For example, your prognosis may not be very good if you have a stroke. However, if the cause of the disorder is high blood pressure or diabetes, these conditions can be controlled and your prognosis will be better.
Next, your outcome will depend on the area of the brain impacted. Your outlook will be poor if you lose consciousness or are unable to move your arms or legs. However, your outlook will be good if your symptoms are not severe and can be reversed.
Finally, your outcome will depend on your age and health. Younger patients in generally good health will have a good chance for making a full recovery.
Reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis or stroke to help prevent vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders. Steps that you can take include:
- quitting smoking
- treating conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- eating a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains