<h4>Background</h4>Dissections of the cervical brain-supplying arteries are a leading cause of ischemic stroke in young adults, with an annual incidence of 2.5-3 / 100 000 for carotid artery dissection and 1-1.5 / 100 000 for vertebral artery dissection. It can be assumed that many cases go unreported. We present the clinical features here to help physicians diagnose this disease entity as rapidly as possible.<h4>Methods</h4>This review is based on pertinent publications retrieved by a selective search in PubMed.<h4>Results</h4>Spontaneous dissection of the internal carotid or vertebral artery is characterized by a hematoma in the vessel wall. It often arises in connection with minor injuries; underlying weakness of the arterial wall (possibly only temporary) may be a predisposing factor. Acute unilateral pain is the main presenting symptom. In internal carotid dissection, the site of the pain is temporal in 46% of cases, and frontal in 19%; in vertebral artery dissection, it is nuchal and occipital in 80%. Pain and local findings, such as Horner syndrome, are generally present from the beginning, while stroke may arise only after a latency of hours to days. If the diagnosis is made early with MRI, CT, or ultrasound, and anticoagulation or antiplatelet drugs can help prevent a stroke, yet none of these methods can detect all cases. Recurrent dissection is rare, except in patients with connective tissue diseases such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or fibromuscular dysplasia. Spontaneous dissection of the great vessels of the neck must be differentiated from aortic dissection spreading to the supra-aortic vessels and from traumatic dissection due to blunt or penetrating vascular trauma.<h4>Conclusion</h4>Dissection of the cervical brain-supplying vessels is not always revealed by the imaging methods that are used to detect it. Stroke prevention thus depends on the physician's being aware of the symptoms and signs of this disease entity, so that early diagnosis can be followed by appropriate treatment.
Dtsch Arztebl Int (Deutsches Arzteblatt international)
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