Cerebral venous thrombosis is a serious health condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein in the brain. If untreated, it can lead to brain bleeding and stroke.
CVT is a blood clot of a cerebral vein in the brain. This vein is responsible for draining blood from the brain. Increased pressure in the cerebral vein can cause a hemorrhage (bleeding) or severe brain swelling.
When caught early, CVT can be treated without causing life threatening complications.
Symptoms can vary depending on where the blood clot occurs in the brain. However, more common symptoms of CVT can include:
If you have a more severe cerebral venous thrombosis, you may experience stroke-like symptoms. These can include:
If you begin experiencing these symptoms, immediately call 911 or your local emergency services or have someone take you to an emergency room.
Other symptoms of severe CVT can include:
Some of these risk factors can include:
- birth control or estrogen use, such as hormone replacement therapy
- ear, face, or neck infection
- protein deficiencies
- head trauma or injury
- brain surgery
The most common cause of CVT in infants is an infection, specifically in the ear.
In some cases of CVT, the cause is unknown.
If left untreated, CVT can have life threatening consequences.
When diagnosing cerebral venous thrombosis, doctors typically evaluate your symptoms and take your medical and family history. A final diagnosis typically depends on checking the blood circulation in your brain. To check the blood flow, doctors can use imaging tests to detect blood clots and swelling.
Imaging tests used to help detect CVT include:
- MRI venogram: An MRI venogram, also called an MRV, is an imaging test that produces images of the blood vessels in the head and neck area. It can help evaluate blood circulation, irregularities, strokes, or brain bleeds. During this MRI, doctors use a special dye to show blood flow and to help determine if blood is clotting. This test is typically used to clarify images from a CT scan.
- CT venogram: CT scans use X-ray imaging to show a doctor your bones and arterial vessels. Combined with a venogram, doctors inject a dye into the veins to produce images of blood circulation and help detect blood clotting.
CVT treatment options can depend on the severity of the condition. Primary treatment typically focuses on preventing or dissolving blood clots in the brain.
Doctors may prescribe medication to treat and prevent blood clots. They may also prescribe other treatments, depending on other symptoms you experience.
- Injectable anticoagulants: Doctors may prescribe anticoagulants, or blood thinners, to help prevent blood clotting and any further clot growth. They may prescribe heparin, which is injected directly into the veins or under the skin.
- Oral anticoagulants: Once the doctor thinks you’re stable, they may recommend an oral blood thinner like warfarin (Jantoven) as a periodic treatment. This can help to prevent recurrent blood clots, specifically if you have a diagnosed blood clotting disorder.
- Other medications: If you’ve experienced a seizure from this condition, doctors may prescribe anti-seizure medication to help control the episode. Similarly, if you begin to experience stroke-like symptoms, a doctor may admit you into a stroke or intensive care unit.
In all cases of CVT, doctors typically continue to monitor your brain activity throughout and after treatment.
You may have follow-up venograms and imaging tests to check progress and ensure no additional clots.
Doctors also use follow-ups to monitor you for other complications from CVT and underlying causes of CVT, such as a clotting disorder or tumor. This may include blood tests and imaging tests.
Doctors may recommend thrombolysis in cases that do not respond well to anticoagulants. This procedure can break up blood clots.
In more severe cases of cerebral venous thrombosis, doctors may recommend surgery to remove the blood clot and fix the blood vessel. This procedure is referred to as a mechanical thrombectomy.
While uncommon, cerebral venous thrombosis can become life threatening if left untreated. When caught early, CVT can be treated noninvasively using medication.
Consider talking with a doctor if you begin experiencing irregular headaches or related symptoms.
If you experience severe headaches or signs of a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services.