OBJECTIVE: Percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) for the distal vertebral and basilar artery is now being performed in selected patients with haemodynamically significant lesions of the posterior cerebral circulation. Its effect and overall results were examined. PATIENTS AND METHODS: A balloon dilatation catheter specifically developed for these procedures, with a 2.0-3.5 mm balloon diameter, at 6 atmospheres of pressure, was used. Angioplasty was performed in 12 patients (including six whose initial results have been reported) with angiographically documented stenotic lesions involving either the intracranial vertebral artery (C1-C2 portion) or the basilar artery, and satisfying the following criteria: (1) clinical symptoms suggestive or consistent with a transient ischaemic attack refractory to medical treatment, or small infarction of the posterior circulation; and (2) angiographically documented stenosis greater than 70%. Two of 12 patients had complete thrombosis of the distal vertebral and basilar artery and PTA was performed after successful intra-arterial thrombolysis. RESULTS: Successful results, without complications, were obtained in eight patients, with complete resolution of vertebrobasilar ischaemic symptoms. Immediate complications occurred in four patients including two with vessel dissection, and two with thromboembolism. The two patients with acute arterial dissection were reoperated but developed small infarctions with permanent neurological deficits. The two patients with thromboembolic complication showed transient neurological deficit. The overall stenosis ratio decreased from a mean of 84% pretreatment to 44% after the angioplasty procedure. Restenosis occurred in two patients. Long term clinical follow up in 11 patients who survived more than six months showed resolution of ischaemic symptoms after PTA in all except for one with a restenosis who had recurrent transient ischaemic attacks. CONCLUSION: Transluminal angioplasty may be an effective procedure to treat vertebrobasilar ischaemia secondary to high grade arteriosclerotic disease affecting either the distal vertebral or basilar artery regions that do not respond to medical treatment.
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