Causes, manifestations and treatment of vertebral artery syndrome

Pulsating pain in the head, periodic dizziness, extraneous tinnitus may indicate the occurrence of vertebral artery syndrome.

The disease needs timely treatment, since in advanced cases it can become the main cause of ischemic stroke.

What is Vertebral Artery Syndrome

There are only two vertebral arteries, they start from the subclavian artery and are involved in the blood supply to the brain.

Vertebral artery syndrome is used to denote a whole complex of various disorders in the body arising from pressure on the artery and on the plexus of nerves around it. Changes can affect both one of the vertebral arteries, and both at the same time.

Deterioration of blood supply to important parts of the brain, steadily leads to pathological changes in their work and, ultimately, to ischemic processes and stroke.


There is a syndrome of vertebral arteries in humans under the influence of two main groups of causes. This is:

  • Not vertebrogenic , that is, not related to the pathologies of the spinal column itself. These reasons include congenital anomalies in the development of one or two vertebral arteries at once, this may be excessive tortuosity, a decrease in size in diameter. Also, non- vertebrogenic causes are associated with atherosclerosis.
  • Vertebral causes include diseases affecting the spine. These are injuries, tumors, ankylosing spondylitis in adults. But nevertheless, cervical osteochondrosis is in the first place among the reasons for the development of vertebral artery syndrome in humans .

Symptoms and signs of cervical osteochondrosis syndrome

The main culprits of vertebral artery syndrome in cervical osteochondrosis are:

  • Osteophytes, that is, the growth of bone protrusions on the vertebrae. This leads to mechanical compression of adjacent vessels and mainly the vertebral artery. Osteophytes also constantly irritate the nerve plexus surrounding the vessel, which further increases the spasm of the artery.
  • Deviation of the vertebrae from their normal location.
  • Inflammatory processes in the tissues of the neck. With inflammation, swelling occurs, it puts pressure on the vessel.
  • Muscle spasm in the cervical spine. Muscle spasm in osteochondrosis of the cervical spine is due to the reflex defense of the body in response to pain and limitation of movements.

Insufficient blood supply to the brain always leads to the development of characteristic symptoms; with vertebral artery syndrome, patients most often complain about:

  • Severe pain in the head. It can be in the form of a pulse, constant, localized in the occiput and crown of the head, above the eyebrows, often noted on only one side. The pain increases after sudden neck movements or after sleeping with the head thrown back or awkwardly turned.
  • Dizziness, tinnitus.
  • Periodic nausea and vomiting without feeling better.
  • Violations of visual function – the appearance of flies, veils and double vision in front of the eyes. A drop in visual acuity is possible.
  • Hearing loss, most often this symptom is recorded on one side.
  • Movement coordination disorders.

If a person also has a history of heart disease or hypertension, then with compression of the vertebral artery, in addition to the main symptoms, compressing or stabbing pains in the heart area may also be disturbing.

In a minority of patients, the Bernard-Horner syndrome is noted, manifested by burning and tingling in one side of the face, sensation of a foreign object in the throat.

Clinical development of the disease

The clinical manifestations of the disease depend on the degree of pathological disturbance of hemodynamics and on the type of disturbance in the supply of blood to the parts of the brain. It is customary to classify the vertebral artery syndrome into two stages according to the degree of revealed hemodynamic changes:

  • Functional, it is also denoted by the term dystonic, the stage is manifested by an almost constant headache. Pain increases with sharp turns of the head and neck, after being in one position for a long time. By nature, the pain is pulsating, burning, aching, it mainly covers the back of the head, temples, forehead area. At the same stage, a sick person often complains of dizziness, it can be manifested by a feeling of instability, a feeling of rapid rotation of nearby objects or a feeling of falling of his own body. In addition to dizziness and pain at the dystonic stage, hearing impairment and visual function are often disturbed.
  • Ischemic (also called organic) stage is manifested by transient ischemic attacks. These are sharply arising attacks of severe dizziness, pronounced impairment in coordination of movements, speech changes, nausea and vomiting. Ischemic attacks often occur precisely with sharp changes in the position of the head, and if a person can take a horizontal position, then regression is possible, that is, stabilization of well-being. After the attack, lethargy, weakness, there may be sparks before the eyes, tinnitus, headache for some time.

By the nature of hemodynamic disorders, the disease is divided into:

  • Irritative form. This variant of the course of the syndrome is formed as a result of irritation of the efferent sympathetic fibers, which causes spasm of the arteries.
  • The angiospastic form occurs as a result of reflex spasm when the receptors are irritated. As the symptoms of this form, diffuse autonomic disorders predominate, not associated with various head movements.
  • The compression form occurs with mechanical compression of the vessels caused by the pathology of the cervical spine.

Diagnostics and treatment

A neurologist or therapist can suggest that a patient has vertebral artery syndrome based on the symptoms of this disease.

To confirm the diagnosis, a number of instrumental examinations are prescribed:

  • USDG – Doppler ultrasound. This examination resembles an ultrasound scan in its conduct and allows you to identify the size of the vessels, the speed of blood flow in them, the presence of convolutions and constrictions.
  • MRI of the neck allows you to detect ischemic foci, the degree of blood supply to the brain.
  • Radiography of the cervical spine is prescribed to identify the cause of the disease.

Treatment begins immediately after confirmation of vertebral artery syndrome, and it must necessarily be comprehensive.

Drug therapy

Groups of drugs are selected depending on all the identified changes and symptoms that bother the patient.

In most cases, the following therapy regimen is prescribed:

  • Anti-inflammatory, it is aimed at relieving inflammation and pain, especially in cervical osteochondrosis. The course uses Nimesulide , Ibuprom , the dosage is selected individually.
  • Medicines to improve venous outflow. Assign Diosmin Troxerutin , in terms of hospital intravenous drip administered L-lysine.
  • Improving the patency of the vertebral artery is achieved through the use of Trental , Agapurin .
  • The drugs that reduce brain hypoxia are Mexidol , Actovegin.
  • Drugs that improve blood flow to the brain – Thiocetam Piracetam .
  • Neuroprotective agents – Gliatillin Solmazin .
  • In marked and frequent dizziness appoint Betaserk Betahistine .
  • Vitamin course.
  • When osteochondrosis is detected, chondroprotectors are prescribed .

Some of the drugs are prescribed to the patient for several months. The dosage of drugs is selected by the doctor specifically for each patient and therefore may vary.

Folk remedies

Traditional methods of treating vertebral artery syndrome should be used only in combination with drug treatment, since this disease always requires a serious approach to its therapy. The most popular remedies include:

  • Garlic tincture. Three large heads of garlic need to be peeled, chopped, poured into a jar and left in a cool place for three days. Then the resulting mass is filtered and natural honey and fresh juice from lemon are added to it in equal proportions. It is necessary to take this remedy in a tablespoon before bedtime, it thins the blood well and promotes better blood flow.
  • Coniferous baths. For their preparation, the needles of pine, cedar, fir, spruce are suitable. The needles are brewed and after 12 hours of infusion, they are poured into water. Such a bathroom relieves muscle spasm, relaxes well and promotes better blood flow, take it for 20-30 minutes.
  • Oregano herb helps with dizziness. It is brewed at the rate of a liter of boiling water for two tablespoons of herbs, it must be brewed overnight. Over the next day, the entire drink is drunk in four doses.

Home treatment

The use of prescribed medications at home is often recommended to be used in combination with wearing a special cervical corset, it is called the Shants collar.

It is imperative that after the relief of acute symptoms of the disease, it is necessary to perform daily exercise complexes at home. Classes should be selected by a doctor taking into account all changes in the spine.

The simplest exercises that can be recommended for vertebral artery syndrome include:

  • Careful head turns. The range of motion should be built up gradually.
  • Slopes.
  • Back pressure bends and turns. That is, it is necessary, turning your head to the side, with your hand, try to keep it from this movement.
  • Shrug.

In the subacute period, massage may be prescribed, but in case of vertebral artery syndrome, it should be performed by a highly qualified specialist. Physiotherapy procedures are shown.

Is it possible to cure

The complete recovery of patients with vertebral artery syndrome depends on many factors.

This includes earlier treatment of the disease, the use of effective medications in a full course, full-fledged home treatment. It is often possible to completely restore normal blood flow in the vertebral arteries only after surgery.


With cervical osteochondrosis, the development of the syndrome can be prevented by the constant implementation of certain preventive measures for this complication. These measures include:

  • Exercise daily. Kneading the neck muscle groups during the day.
  • It is necessary to sleep on an orthopedic mattress and pillow.
  • Massage courses at least twice a year.
  • Complete and timely treatment of osteochondrosis.

Vertebral artery syndrome can lead to very serious complications, some of which end in disability.

And therefore, when the first signs of the disease appear, it is necessary to undergo a diagnosis and a course of effective treatment.

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