St. Luke's Hospital
Located in Chesterfield, MO
Main Number: 314-434-1500
Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
Find a Physician Payment Options Locations & Directions
Follow us on: facebook twitter Mobile Email Page Email Page Print Page Print Page Increase Font Size Decrease Font Size Font Size
Meet the Doctor
Spirit of Women
Community Health Needs Assessment
Home > Health Information

Multimedia Encyclopedia


    Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders

    Vertebrobasilar insufficiency; Posterior circulation ischemia

    Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are conditions in which blood supply to the back of the brain is disrupted.


    Three main blood vessels provide blood flow to the back of the brain:

    • One basilar artery
    • Two vertebral arteries

    This part of the brain contains structures that are crucial for keeping a person alive, such as breathing, heart rate, swallowing, vision, movement, and posture or balance.

    Many different conditions may cause blood flow in the back part of the brain to be reduced or stopped. The most common are smoking, highblood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. These are similar to the risk factors for any stroke.

    Vertebrobasilar vascular disorders may also be caused by a tear (dissection) in an artery wall.

    Other less common causes of vertebrobasilar vascular disorders include connective tissue diseases and vasculitis.


    Most common symptoms may include:

    • Difficulty saying words
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Double vision or vision loss
    • Numbness or tingling most often on the face or scalp
    • Slurred speech
    • Sudden falls (drop attacks)
    • Vertigo (sensation of things spinning around)
    • Memory loss

    Other symptoms that may occur include:

    • Bladder or bowel control problems
    • Difficulty walking (unsteady gait)
    • Headache
    • Hearing loss
    • Muscle weakness
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Neck ache
    • Pain in one or more parts of the body, which gets worse with touch and cold temperatures
    • Poor coordination
    • Sleepiness or even apparent sleep from which the person cannot be awakened
    • Sudden, uncoordinated movements
    • Sweating on the face, arms, or legs

    Exams and Tests

    Tests depend on the possible underlying cause, but may include:

    • CT or MRI of the brain
    • Computed tomography angiography (CTA), magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), or ultrasound to look at blood vessels in the brain
    • Blood tests, including blood clotting studies
    • Echocardiogram
    • Electrocardiogram (ECG) and Holter monitor
    • X-rays of the arteries (angiogram)


    Sudden onset of vertebrobasilar symptoms is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Treatment is similar to that forstroke .

    Treatment and prevention may include:

    • Blood-thinning medications to lower your risk of stroke, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix)
    • Diet changes and medication to lower cholesterol and control blood pressure
    • Exercise
    • Losing weight
    • Stopping smoking

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    The outlook depends on:

    • The type of stroke
    • The amount of brain damage
    • What body functions have been affected
    • How quickly you get treatment
    • How quickly you recover

    Each person has a different recovery time and need forlong-term care. Problems with moving, thinking, and talking often improve in the first weeks or months after a stroke. Some people will keep improving months or years after a stroke.

    Possible Complications

    Complications of vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are stroke and its complications. The complications of stroke include:

    • Respiratory (breathing) failure (which may require use of a machine to help the patient breathe)
    • Lung problems (especially lung infections)
    • Heart attack
    • Dehydration and swallowing problems (sometimes leading to the placement of tubes in the stomach for artificial feeding)
    • Problems with movement or sensation, including paralysis and numbness
    • Formation of clots in the legs

    Patients may have vision loss in one eye.

    Complications caused by medications or surgery may also occur.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call 911 or your local emergency number, or get to the emergency room if you have any symptoms that may suggest a vertebrobasilar circulatory disorder.


    Furie KL, Kasner SE, Adams RJ, et al. Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in patients with stroke or transient ischemic attack: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011;42:227-276.

    Goldstein LB, Bushnell CD, Adams RJ,et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011;42:517-584.

    Adams RJ, Albers G, Alberts MJ, Benavente O, Furie K, Goldstein LB, et al. Update to the AHA/ASA recommendations for the prevention of stroke in patients with stroke and transient ischemic attack. Stroke. 2008 May;39(5):1647-52. Epub 2008 Mar 5.

    Biller J, Love BB, Schneck MJ. Vascular Diseases of the Nervous System. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth-Heinemann; 2008:chap 55.


    • Vertebral column


    • Arteries of the brain


      • Vertebral column


      • Arteries of the brain


      A Closer Look

        Self Care

          Tests for Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders

            Review Date: 8/29/2012

            Reviewed By: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

            A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and chrome browser.

            Back  |  Top
            About Us
            Contact Us
            Locations & Directions
            Quality Reports
            Annual Reports
            Honors & Awards
            Community Health Needs

            Brain & Spine
            Sleep Medicine
            Urgent Care
            Women's Services
            All Services
            Patients & Visitors
            Locations & Directions
            Find a Physician
            Tour St. Luke's
            Patient & Visitor Information
            Contact Us
            Payment Options
            Financial Assistance
            Send a Card
            Mammogram Appointments
            Health Tools
            My Personal Health
            Spirit of Women
            Health Information & Tools
            Clinical Trials
            Employer Programs -
            Passport to Wellness

            Classes & Events
            Classes & Events
            Spirit of Women
            Donate & Volunteer
            Giving Opportunities
            Physicians & Employees
            For Physicians
            Remote Access
            Medical Residency Information
            Pharmacy Residency Information
            Physician CPOE Training
            St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
            Copyright © St. Luke's Hospital Website Terms and Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Notice of Privacy Practices PDF  |  Patient Rights PDF Sitemap St. Luke's Mobile