Arterial Dissection | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of an arterial dissection?

In most cases, arterial dissection is diagnosed after a stroke or during evaluation after head or neck trauma. Many children have neck pain or headache around the time that the dissection occurs, and if a blood clot has formed, the child may have symptoms of a stroke or transient ischemic attack. However, symptoms can vary widely, depending on whether the dissection is the result of trauma, whether it is located in the head and neck versus the brain and whether it involves the vertebral or carotid artery. Vertebral dissection, for example, can cause speech and swallowing problems.

Arterial dissection can cause serious complications. In some cases, injury to the lining of the artery may narrow it enough to block the flow of blood. Alternatively, the injury can cause a clot to form at the site of the vascular dissection. Potentially, the clot can break off, travel into the brain's arteries, interrupt blood flow and cause an arterial ischemic stroke. Sometimes the false lumen (the abnormal passageway created by the dissection) can behave like an aneurysm and burst, causing a hemorrhagic stroke (major bleeding into the brain).

What causes an arterial dissection?

Arterial dissection can occur as a result of head or neck trauma (either serious or minor), but sometimes it has no identifiable cause. Certain medical conditions, such as Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, coarctation of the aorta and inflammatory disorders can weaken the blood vessel walls, and make children susceptible to arterial dissection.